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Loss of a legend: BYU's Dave Schulthess leaves behind large legacy

(left to right) David Harkness, Margo Walters McDonold, Terry Nish, Susie Odle and Dave Schulthess pose during the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation at the EnergySolutions Arena.  Photo: Michael Brandy.  NOVEMBER 13, 2007
(left to right) David Harkness, Margo Walters McDonold, Terry Nish, Susie Odle and Dave Schulthess pose during the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation at the EnergySolutions Arena. Photo: Michael Brandy. NOVEMBER 13, 2007
Michael Brandy, Michael Brandy

He wore a '40s-style hat over big glasses and a big smile as he opened the trunk and all four doors of an airport-rented station wagon and welcomed in three sportswriters and a broadcaster to the ride he would chauffeur.

Our patron was David Schulthess, the first full-time sports information director hired by BYU in 1951, a job he held through wins and losses until 1989. Dave passed away Sunday.

We lost our driver.

It was a ritual unheard of these days. Reporters for the Deseret News, The Salt Lake Tribune and the Provo Daily Herald would join KSL’s voice of the Cougars, Paul James, and cram into a rental car as a traveling media corps, headed someplace to eat in Albuquerque, Fort Collins, San Diego or Laramie before hotel check-in. We were rivals but colleagues. We knew one another’s family members, office politics and deadlines and we traded stories like dry dock sailors. It was fun, an adventure.

It was our ways and means and life because of one man. But it faded out a long time ago.

Schulthess was a throwback to the days when media attention was special, something coveted, courted and aided with few fences. The University of Utah had its own legend, Bruce Woodbury, and BYU had Dave. They were beloved, respected, helpful, funny, accommodating, self-depreciating and standard bearers for their organizations.

Dave and Woody made it fun to cover college sports. They’d arrange interviews at the drop of a hat. They’d take teasing when their teams stunk it up. They’d protect their programs but wouldn’t mind laughing at stupid things done or said.

They were tour guides, lunch companions, hotel lounge lizards, drivers, airport lurkers and professional pitch men. The Wasatch Front's version of "Mad Men".

Schulthess began as BYU’s front man when BYU did nothing but lose most football games.

Dave knew reporters because he’d worked as one. He was editor of the Daily Universe before graduating in 1950 and went on to work for the Deseret News, The Salt Lake Telegram, and The Salt Lake Tribune. He also served three years in the U.S. Army Infantry, including duty in the South Pacific.

By the time Schulthess was through at BYU, his influence among the nation’s press greatly aided in publicity and awards that led to Heisman, Outland, Davey O’Brien, Maxwell, Eastman and Wooden trophies as well as a truckload of All-American citations. Most all the high-profile quarterbacks he worked with are now in the College Football Hall of Fame. So is LaVell Edwards, the coach Dave spent most his career working for.

Schulthess was a one-man show for more than two decades. BYU finally allowed him an assistant, Ken Mitchell, and the two-man tag team did the work the current office now does with dozens of full-timers, part-timers and interns.

When Danny Ainge made that scoring dash against Notre Dame in the NCAAs, Schulthess wasn’t given the budget to take along a photographer and lucked out that freelancer Doug Martin, a Provo native there at his own expense, caught the moment.

Schulthess worked with meager means and did so before there was a Marriott Center or a LaVell Edwards Stadium. For those who knew him professionally and privately, he was a gentleman and pro.

I broke into this business as a college reporter when Dave was in his heyday. I’d always smile when he’d say something like, “Hey, how did you come up with that one?”

When BYU hired Schulthess, the man who’d been BYU’s sports information director on a part-time basis was Ray Beckham, who worked for Ed Butterworth, director of the university’s public relations office.

Beckham remembers handing over the reins to Schulthess in 1951 right before BYU’s success in basketball at the NIT.

“Dave was a straight-shooter,” said Beckham. “He was always available, always told the truth, no matter who it hurt or helped. Other sports information directors liked him; they made him their national president. He was very professional and friendly and popular with reporters both local and national.”

Schulthess was the gatekeeper who gave me my first credential to cover a major college game. He was kind and respectful, with an understanding of deadlines and in keeping a reporter’s scoop exclusive if the work called for it.

He knew the business and the people like us on the 24-hour news cycle. He knew what it was like to use a typewriter and call in a story by phone. He understood what it was like to be on the never-ending hamster wheel we call newspapers in a day when there was no Internet.

I salute Dave. My condolences I send to his family and friends. He was a legend in a world where we are fast losing so many.

Beckham, later a communications professor at BYU and co-founder of the Cougar Club in 1963, had a front-row seat to Schulthess’ life and career.

“We lost a giant in Dave Schutlhess,” Beckham said on Monday. “We really did.”

It’s a wrap, Dave.

Thanks for always helping us make deadline.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.