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Doug Robinson's LaVell Edwards memories

When someone asks me what LaVell Edwards was like, this is one of the stories I tell them:

Many years ago, near the end of LaVell's coaching career, I saw him talking to a beat writer on the practice field. I was surprised that LaVell was not only talking to him, but doing so in his usual polite, nonchalant way. I was surprised because a day earlier this same reporter had written a story in which he was very critical of LaVell and intimated, among other things, that he was too old for the game. It went on from there.

When I read it, I winced. I thought the coach deserved better than that, especially at this point in his career. I thought it was pretty offensive, and if I had written it I wouldn’t have had the nerve to show up at practice the next day and interview the coach face to face. But there was LaVell, patiently answering his questions as if nothing was wrong.

Later, I found myself sitting with LaVell in his golf cart watching practice and I asked him about the interview. How could he talk to that guy? How could he not say something? Wasn’t he mad?

LaVell paused only a moment before he said, “I decided a long time ago that if I was going to hold grudges in this business it would turn into a full-time job. That’s all I’d do. So I decided I wasn’t going to let things like that bother me. I developed a pretty thick skin.”

Don’t you wish everyone were like that, especially when our PC culture has created an industry of people ferreting out petty offenses for public humiliation? It made an impression on me.

LaVell, one of the winningest coaches in the history of college football and a man people fussed and fawned over, certainly could have developed an ego, along with the pride and defensiveness that accompany it. It didn’t happen. He was so comfortable in his own skin — and, really, that was his defining characteristic — that he could not be shaken by anything someone said, even in a public forum.

Columnist Lee Benson once marveled that LaVell managed to navigate the high-pressure, testosterone-fueled world of college football without ever making an enemy. Everyone loved and admired LaVell, even the archrival Utes. Relations between the BYU and Utah coaches were pretty cold before LaVell came along, and resumed after he left.

LaVell moved through the college football world with dignity, humor and perspective. Nothing fazed him, and this permeated everything he did right down to his legendary calm on the sidelines, which belied a fiery competitiveness that left him so wired after games that he couldn’t fall asleep for hours.

Even when there was big disappointment, he didn’t lose his equanimity, and he could fall back on his sense of humor. Many will remember his legendary quote after a bitter loss during a blizzard in Laramie, revealing again the quick wit he was known for: “I’d rather lose and live in Provo than win and live in Laramie."

The LaVell you saw on the sidelines — calm, unflappable, even-tempered, thoughtful — that was the way he was all the time.