By Kelly Foss and Jason Swensen
Iconic college football coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and LaVell Edwards could aptly be called kindred spirits. Both men were known for their stoic sideline personalities and remarkably successful programs. And both plied their trades in a period when coaches often spent decades at the helm of their respective schools, allowing them to mark their program with their distinctive style and brand.
So it’s little surprise that Coach Edwards, a lifelong Latter-day Saint, would be honored with an award named for the legendary “Bear.” On Jan. 17, the retired BYU football coach received the 2013 Paul “Bear” Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th annual Marathon Oil Corp. Award ceremony. Coach Edwards, who earned his reputation as an innovator on the offensive side of the ball, was joined at the ceremony by a quartet of some of his most prolific quarterbacks — Elder Gifford Nielsen, an Area Seventy, along with Robbie Bosco, Heismann Trophy winner Ty Detmer and John Beck.
A collection of past and current college football coaches also attended the event.
“To receive an award in the name of Bear Bryant, who was one of the great coaches of the game, is a great honor and I appreciate it very much,” Coach Edwards said.
He retired from coaching more than a decade ago. But he has remained a visible champion for both football and the Church. He and his wife, Patti Edwards, served a mission to New York City and the coach can still be heard on Utah radio talking college football. He remains the seventh all-time winningest coach in Division 1 college football history and a beloved figure for Cougar fans. The Provo, Utah, stadium where BYU plays its home games bears his name.
During Coach Edwards’s 29-year tenure, BYU recorded a 257-101-3 record, highlighted by the 1984 national championship. He also coached the Cougars to 19 conference titles and appeared in 21 bowl games. The coach said he most appreciates the association he made with his fellow coaches and the scores of players he worked with. “I think more about relationships and people than I do about games and championships.”
The Bear Bryant coaching award is just the latest honor to be found in Coach Edward’s trophy case. During his coaching career, he was twice honored as the national coach of the year and received several conference and district coaching awards.
Coach Edwards said he’s optimistic about the future of the Cougar football program. “They have a tough schedule next year, but I think they have a chance to be a pretty good team.”
The Marathon Oil Paul “Bear” Bryant Award honors excellence in coaching and raises money for charitable causes, including the American Heart Association (Coach Edwards, incidentally, is recovering from recent heart surgery). The award is given each year to a coach who has demonstrated “outstanding achievements” and “extraordinary contributions” which have reflected “honor and sportsmanship” to the game.
A list of previous winners reads like a Who’s-Who of college football coaching, including Gene Stallings, Lou Holtz, Bo Schembechler, Vince Dooley, Bobby Bowden and Hayden Fry.