Lasting legacy: BYU Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards still impacting football five years after his death
Kalani Sitake poses for a photo with his former coach and players after he is introduced as the new football head coach for Brigham Young University on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015 at the BYU Broadcasting Building. Sitake's coaching background is defense-oriented, most recently as Oregon State's coordinator. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald
Current Brigham Young University head coach Kalani Sitake and former head coach LaVell Edwards, left, laugh together during the 2016 BYU Media Day on
June 30 at the BYU Broadcast Center at in Provo.
Former Brigham Young Cougars head football coach Lavell Edwards greets the 1996 team during the 2016 BYU football National Media Day, Thursday, June 30, 2016, at the Broadcast Center at Brigham Yong University in Provo. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald
Legendary former BYU football head coach LaVell Edwards poses for a photo in his home. This year, BYU got a new coach, Kalani Sitake, and despite being a new coach to the program, he quickly learned the importance of keeping old traditions in the program, as well as introducing new ones in an ever-changing collegiate sports world where innovation is key. DOMINIC VALENTE
FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2007 file photo, former Brigham Young football coach LaVell Edwards talks about the Awards & Recognition Association Sportsmanship Award, during a news conference in Seattle. Mention the WAC to coach Edwards, and he thinks back to BYU's 1984 national championship. Now, the Western Athletic Conference appears to be going from beast to bust. The football conference that once spanned four time zones faces extinction as other super conferences rule the land. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Former BYU coach LaVell Edwards and former Utah coach Ron McBride chat following a golf tournament to benefit the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho at the Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy on Monday.
When BYU football players enter the locker room at LaVell Edwards Stadium, they find a photo of the man the stadium is named after.
That’s just one way that Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake shows his players how much Edwards meant both to him personally and to the BYU program.
During his 86 years of life, Edwards became a legendary college football coach, a Hall of Fame inductee who put the Cougars on the map.
It was at the end of 2016 that Edwards died (just over five years ago) but, according to Sitake, his legacy lives on — both at BYU and across the country.
“For me, the legacy will always continue on because much of what I do is a reflection of him, of what he did for me when I was a player,” Sitake said in a phone interview. “I’ve said it over and over again that the culture, the environment, a lot of stuff that we’re doing here within our program are because I felt I was able to flourish in the environment LaVell provided for me. I have no issues giving him credit for all that because if it worked back then it definitely can work now. And it seems to be working really, really well.”
He credits the emphasis he places on getting players to take ownership of the program as something Edwards taught him.
“The system works when you care about the players and love them and they feel it,” Sitake said. “That’s how I felt when I played for LaVell. I think most of my conversations were about something other than football.”
Sitake has discovered just how time-consuming it is to be a head college football coach and that has given him an even greater appreciation for how Edwards never seemed to be rushed.
“I’m in a job where my time is divided up by every little thing,” Sitake said. “But when you met with LaVell, you didn’t feel like he had to move on to the next person. You were right there in that moment with him. I remember sitting with him having a conversation and him not even worried about anything but talking to me. He had that razor-sharp focus to be all about you in that moment.”
Sitake said he always felt like he was Edwards’s favorite player and discovered that was how all of the BYU players felt.
“I don’t know if there is a manual you can to learn that, but I liked the way he made me feel,” Sitake said. “I hope I can do that for someone some day. I want my kids to feel like how he made me feel. It’s a unique feeling and it’s so empowering.”
There is a perception that the modern era of college football, with the large amounts of money involved and the resulting lack of patience, that it’s tougher to be successful than it was for Edwards.
Sitake, however, believes that the fundamentals haven’t changed. He noted that some of the coaches who learned from Edwards like Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid have invested a lot in their teams.
“I think maybe things are accelerated with with technology but those are guys who have established roots where they are at,” Sitake said. “I think for the culture to really work, it takes it takes a long time to establish roots and a foundation, where everything is clicking/ Sometimes it is hard to do in an impatient world where things get to you quicker but somethings you just cannot hurry. Spending time with people is one of them.”
Sitake said Edwards understood the balance of knowing the game but also knowing the people who played it.
“He was very, very smart,” Sitake said. “He knew football and had a great football IQ, but he also had the human EQ, the emotional intelligence. He had this emotional awareness that was unique and different. It was awesome. It was really remarkable for me to see the things he was able to do.”
While Sitake knows that he has the responsibility to continue the success Edwards had with the BYU football program, he said the legacy of his mentor goes far beyond the confines of the gridiron.
“It makes sense that there are a lot of coaches he impacted out there in the pro, college and high school ranks, but there are a lot of people who aren’t in coaching,” Sitake said. “If you add up all the people who have been mentored by LaVell, you’ll find lawyers and doctors and politicians, people from all areas of life. It’s a diverse group and they are all his guys. His legacy lives on a lot of households, a lot of companies, as well as on a lot of teams”
Sitake said he feels fortunate to have been able to know Edwards as a fan, as a player and as a coach. He said it is an honor to have a strong relationship with Edwards’s wife, Patti Edwards, as well as the whole family.
He strongly believes that continuing to do things how he learned from Edwards will benefit both his program and everyone in his life.
“What an awesome person,” Sitake said. “What a wonderful person to be to make as an example for other coaches. It would make a lot of sense for all of us to try to do it like he did.”