PROVO — His name will prominently be there, Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, though LaVell himself won’t.
Or maybe he will.
The spirit of the late coach will be lingering, arms folded, jaw squared. That uniform patch the Cougars are wearing this year? It’s perfect. Because there is no way BYU can beat a faster, deeper Utah team without the spirit of LaVell. Kalani Sitake knows it. Ty Detmer knows it. Even Kyle Whittingham knows it.
The size of BYU’s defensive line is the least of Utah’s worries.
Whatever the outcome, whomever the stars are, this game still belongs to Edwards. Nobody owned BYU football better, and no one has put a fairer face on the program. Never mind it was a face that, as he put it, kept forgetting to smile. He was happy inside because the Cougars won, yet just as happy to be part of the game.
He had numerous chances for career moves, but was fine right there, with the late afternoon sun turning Mount Timpanogos to gold, then pink. He felt himself fortunate. His son, John, says his father felt “duty-bound to be a coach but incredibly grateful.”
Maybe that’s why he couldn’t be baited into joining the trash talk. Overcooked as the rivalry got, you wouldn’t know it by looking at LaVell — even if you lived in his house. He neither ranted nor sulked nor overly worried.
“I’m sure he agonized over losses to Utah, but he didn’t ever show it,” said son Jim, now an attorney in Las Vegas. “He was never short with Mom or the kids when there was extra pressure or a loss.”
In some ways, it’s a good thing Edwards retired before the rivalry got even nastier. Taunting was never his style. He innately knew how to get his team motivated, yet he avoided seriously offending others.
He lent a sensibility to a game that is always short on such things.
“For the Utah game, there would always be a bunch of stuff in the newspapers, the fans were in a fervor, but I can tell you that from being around the house, I could never ever really tell a difference in him between getting ready for San Jose State and whatever other team,” Jim said.
Edwards did see enough changes to make him glad he retired in 2000. He told associates that today’s coaches have a far different challenge, thanks to social media distractions and administrative work. But he would have handled it gracefully and humorously, regardless. After emergency surgery on his carotid artery in 1997, he joked about his team passing just 16 times in a loss to Utah.
“My wife says I wasn’t getting enough circulation to my brain,” he said.
Edwards came along after six decades of domination by Utah, triggering a 20-year run of success in which “BYU made the game relevant again,” according to Jim. Then came Ron McBride, Urban Meyer and Whittingham on the other sideline, and the Utes again ruled the rivalry.
“Now,” Jim said, “it’s up to Kalani to get the ship righted and competitive again. The games have been competitive, but we’ve got to get some wins.”19 comments on this story
Last time Jim and his father watched a game together was BYU’s 55-53 win over Toledo in 2016. The coach couldn’t get over how much fun it was. He said, “That’s the way the game should be played,” with both teams making big plays and performing smoothly.
It didn’t hurt that they scored enough points to break a pinball counter.
Edwards passed away nine months ago. That’s not long enough for anyone to forget how he handled virtually every conflict, including the rivalry. Jim still forgets sometimes that his dad is gone. He’ll be working or watching a game and reach to call him.
“I still want to talk to him,” he said.
Don’t we all.