PROVO — As far as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland is concerned, one of the greatest emissaries for Brigham Young University was legendary football coach LaVell Edwards.
“Only the university’s namesake, good old Brother Brigham himself, may be the only better-known link in the nation to this university than is the name of LaVell Edwards,” Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Friday night at the public memorial service for Edwards, 86, who died Dec. 29.
Hundreds of people, including fans and former players, arrived on a frigid January night at the Utah Valley Convention Center to honor and pay respects to Edwards. The program included a six-minute video filled with iconic photos of Edwards as well as talks from his children.
A private funeral service is scheduled for Saturday morning.
Elder Holland noted the outpouring of love for and tributes about Edwards this past week.
“I think it is without precedent in BYU history,” he said. “Now that is not bad for a boy raised right here in Utah County, who played in his college days down in the trenches where there was blood, bent fingers and broken noses, and who, for the most part of his coaching career, forgot to tell his face how happy he was.”
Among his many accomplishments, Edwards earned 257 victories in his 29 seasons as BYU’s head coach to become one of the winningest coaches in the sport’s history, catapulted the perennially downtrodden BYU football program into a national power and helped revolutionize college football with an emphasis on the forward pass. Edwards was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
But Elder Holland, who served as the school's president during Edwards’ tenure, remembered Edwards as a man who was much more than a football coach.
“What you saw is what you got,” Elder Holland said. “It was a quality that reassured me all those years that LaVell would never embarrass the university, nor the church, which sponsors it. He would never be found cutting corners or compromising principles or living beneath the standards that the church and the university espoused.”
It was a theme carried by other speakers Friday.
“He was a true disciple of Jesus Christ. That’s the way he lived his life,” former BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco said. “It’s not about the wins, not about the touchdown passes, not about the tackles players made. It’s how he treated us as human beings and the impact he had on all of our lives to make us better men, better people.”
Bosco, who shared remarks as a representative of all of Edwards’ players, recalled the confidence Edwards instilled in him even after a rough beginning in his first start — in which the Cougars upset No. 3 Pittsburgh and kicked off a season that ended with a 13-0 record and a national championship. Bosco said a couple of days after that monumental victory, he could barely move as a result of the beating he absorbed during the game. He called Edwards’ son, Jimmy, for a priesthood blessing.
To Bosco’s surprise, LaVell arrived 10 minutes later with Jimmy to provide the blessing.
“It was shocking to me because I know how busy coaches are on Mondays,” said Bosco, who was also on Edwards’ coaching staff for 14 years. “He taught, he loved, he administered. That’s LaVell Edwards in a nutshell … That legacy isn’t going to end right now with his passing. I think his legacy is going to go on for generations and generations. We’ll be talking about LaVell Edwards for a long time.”
Speakers highlighted Edwards’ special relationship with his wife, Patti. The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary last summer.
“He was absolutely crazy about her,” Elder Holland said. “And he was her slightly rumpled knight in shining armor. As their family came along, that love was then showered upon Ann and John and Jimmy … Football is what Patti and LaVell did. But disciples of Christ is what they were.”
Edwards’ sons, Jimmy and John, also spoke of their dad's love of family.
When his sister, Ann, was a young girl, John Edwards recalled, a scheduled daddy-daughter date had been planned by the LDS ward but, LaVell was in California recruiting. Ann was making plans to attend the event with friends and their fathers. But when she arrived home from school that day, she was stunned to see her father, who had paid his own way home to accompany Ann.
John Edwards thanked BYU for leaving the lights on at the stadium named after his father — LaVell Edwards Stadium — the night LaVell passed away.
“What a wonderful tribute,” he said.
Jimmy Edwards urged those in attendance to live life to the fullest and to serve others like his father did.
“He valued the person over sports. Most important to him was his personal relationships,” Jimmy said. “He would help people and encourage them to follow their dreams, and he saw in others things they didn’t see themselves.”
Brian Santiago, a BYU associate athletic director who has also been serving as the bishop of Edwards’ ward in Provo, conducted Friday’s service. Santiago recalled that years ago, his then-9-year-old son, Colson, once said as they were driving around town, “Dad, LaVell is a lucky guy.”
“What do you mean?” Santiago asked.
“Look," Colson said, "he’s named after the football stadium."
Colson is now serving a LDS mission in Ukraine. Last Monday, he told his father that Edwards had sent him a letter while he was in the Missionary Training Center a few months ago.
“I still have (the letter) and read it when I get discouraged,” Colson wrote.
Elder Holland noted that Edwards attributed his unflappable coaching style to what he had learned as a bishop of a student ward before he became head coach: surround himself with talented people, delegate responsibilities and let those who serve with him perform their duties.
Unlike many coaches, Edwards wasn’t interested in recogition and praise for himself.
“He never saw his job description as ‘take all the credit for everything that works,’” Elder Holland said. “He saw his job description as get the best you possibly can out of everyone around you. He did that as well as any leader I have ever known … His principle source for strength and for coaching ability was his lifelong devotion to the principles and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LaVell was true to his faith in every setting in which I ever saw him — on the field, off the field, in the locker room, on recruiting trips, holding team prayer ... everywhere.”
Looking back on the night's memorial for Edwards, Elder Holland referenced the Cougars' 1984 national title:
“It’s been perfect. It’s like going 13-0. It’s been absolutely perfect.”