My Approach to Football

LaVell Edwards Head Coach Brigham Young University Provo, Utah

entlemen, I’m happy to be here today. Grant Teaff has asked me to discuss with you a little of our history at Brigham Young University, how we decided to start throwing the ball, and what our thought processes were in putting it all together. I would first like to say how proud I am to have had the opportunity to coach football as a high school coach for eight years, as an assistant coach at BYU for 10 years, and as the head football coach at BYU for the last 29 years. It is truly a tremendous profession and the AFCAis a great organization. Grant and his staff are doing a marvelous job with the Association. I’ve been a member for the 39 years, and needless to say, I have seen a lot of changes in the profession and this organization during that time. I will address some of those changes later. After graduating from Utah State in June 1952, I had a two-year military commitment (ROTC) during which I played one season at Fort Lee, Virginia, and coached part of a season at Fort Meade, Maryland. After the first four games, I received my overseas orders and was sent to Japan. Upon my release from the Army in August of 1954, I was set to return to Utah State as a graduate assistant. The day before I was to start, I was offered the position of head football coach at Granite High School in Salt Lake City. I coached football, wrestling and golf for eight years. In 1961, BYU hired Hal Mitchell as their new head coach. He had been an AllAmerican lineman at UCLAand had played for Red Sanders. Hal was going to bring the single-wing offense back to major college football. In putting his staff together, I was apparently the only Mormon in the country coaching the single wing, so I was hired on as an assistant coach in 1962. It obviously didn’t work and Hal left after a couple of years. BYU then hired Tommy Hudspeth who, at the time, was coaching one of the professional teams in Canada. He retained me on his staff and I coached defense for eight years, being the defensive coordinator the last five. In January of 1972, Tommy left BYU and a week later they appointed me as the head football coach. I remember thinking a lot about what we needed to do to start winning. In 47 years of competition, BYU had won an average of three or four games per season, so we didn’t have a rich tradition in football. As a staff, we had many times dis-


cussed the reasons why we couldn’t win, and we had them all down pat. The first thing I decided to do was quit worrying about the things we didn’t have and start focusing on what we did have. We had to change the image we had of ourselves first before we could expect anyone to change their impression of us. This brings up the first point I would like to discuss with you today. Every League Has Its “Haves” and “Have-Nots” Whether you are coaching in junior high, high school, junior college, small college or large college, there will always be the "haves" and the "have-nots." BYU was definitely a "have-not." We had a stadium that held 10,000, which we never filled; we had a smaller coaching staff than other schools; we had never been a consistent winner; we had only one conference championship in history, that being in 1965; and there was almost total apathy toward football in Provo. BYU was a basketball school. In a situation like this, you have to think a little out-of-the-box and be more creative than ordinary. My attitude was not if I was going to be fired, but when I was going to get fired. That had been the pattern for many years. I figured since I probably wasn’t going to make it anyway, I may as well try something radically different. I decided to throw the ball, not just the normal 10-15 times a game, but 35-45 times a game, from our own end zone to the opponent’s one-yard line and anywhere in between. Ironically, that first year we had a player, Pete VanValkenburg, who led the nation in rushing. We were picked to come in last, but we finished tied for second in the conference. The second year, we started our passing game with a quarterback named Gary Sheide and had our only losing season, going 5-6. The third year, we started out 03-1 in our first four games. We then won seven straight games, won the conference championship, and played in our first bowl game, the Fiesta Bowl. There were other things that we instituted about then also, including having personal interviews two or three times a year, organizing a players’ council, and anything else we could think of to change the image we had of ourselves. Find a Philosophy That Works for You I believe it is so important to base your philosophy on your own personality. It is all

• Proceedings • 78th AFCA Convention • 2001 •

right to emulate the traits and concepts of others, but don’t just try to imitate other coaches. My philosophy includes several keys to success. Be Consistent: I believe maybe the most important characteristic you can have when dealing with others is to be consistent. Communication is so important and is best when those around you know where you are coming from on all issues. I believe this develops honesty, which in turn develops trust. Without trust you will never develop good communication. The great thing about coaching is that there are so many different ways of doing things based, of course, on what a coach believes and what course he wants to take to find success. We can win with a player who has an average throwing arm if he is consistent and runs the offense. You cannot win with an inconsistent performer regardless of how well he can throw the ball. Concentration/Intensity: Two things I expect from the team during practice are concentration and intensity. You cannot improve without a full measure of both. So many times in practice, players and coaches just go through the motions and are not focused on what they are doing. To me, this is where mental toughness comes into play. Mental toughness is more important than physical toughness because it helps you stay focused and concentrate on what you are trying to accomplish. Intensity has to come from within. It has nothing to do with how vocal or overt a player is. It can be someone who is vocal, but it is often the player who is quiet. Whether players are born with this trait or it is developed, I’m not sure; however, I do know there have been players who have improved their intensity levels with hard work. If you can find a player who practices hard and concentrates each day, you will have a player who will win for you. Execution: As coaches, we all have a tendency to do too much. We will have more plays than we will ever use in a game. It’s always interesting how much time we practice new plays, maybe use them a few times, and then come back to the basic plays we have run for years. It is important for a head coach to allocate the time necessary for the team to thoroughly learn what is to be accomplished that week. You must do more than give lip service to special teams. Too many times coaches get pressed for time and let this very important area slip. We always do special teams dur-

LaVell Edwards was the third-winningest active coach in Division I-A when he retired following the 2000 season. He led the Cougars to 20 conference championships, 22 bowl games and the national championship in 1984.
ing the first part of practice, allowing enough time to get everything done that we have planned. As an example of having to plan and execute your practice schedule properly, look at the H Option, a play that doesn’t appear to be all that complicated. It is, however, a play that requires a lot of repetition in practice because of all the reads and options it can have. This particular play has been very good for us for a number of years. The last two or three years, however, we haven’t been as effective in running this play, probably because we haven’t spent the time necessary in practice to make it work.

Diagram 3A

Diagram 1

Diagram 3B

This is just one pass play. When you add all the different formations and motions you can use to run this pattern, it adds to the practice time needed to make it ef fective.

Diagram 2 Diagram 3C

• Proceedings • 78th AFCA Convention • 2001 •

Diagram 3D

Diagram 3E

Discipline: The best form of discipline is that which comes from within. I spend a lot of time meeting individually, in small groups and in team meetings trying to get players to buy into what I’m trying to see accomplished in all areas, academics, personal conduct, strength and conditioning, and football. Some obviously have greater discipline than others. Some will be strong in one or two areas and weak in others. This is where the individual meetings with the players help. Once the players have bought into the program, they will be your greatest source of help for others as they join the team. Karl Malone and John Stockton, of the Utah Jazz and both future Hall of Famers, are the best examples I have seen in passing along the team philosophy and discipline to the new players. Whether motivation or discipline comes first, I’m not certain. It appears they develop somewhat simultaneously. Someone once said that motivation was nothing more than creating a need. It reminds me of the

story of a young army draftee in basic training somewhere in Georgia. He became so homesick for his girlfriend in Chicago that he couldn’t stand being away from her. One night he jumped out of bed and ran out of the barracks. When he reached the front gate of the Army post, he just kept running. The sentry raised his rifle and told him to halt. The soldier just kept running, looked over his shoulder and said, "I have a father in Hell, a mother in Heaven and a girlfriend in Chicago, and I plan to see one of them tonight." This kid had a need! Attitude. Woody Hayes once said a team is controlled better by attitude than by rules. This goes along with what I mentioned about discipline. It’s so much better when it comes from within than when it is imposed. One of the great stories I heard about attitude came from Bob Blackman. It seems this rather large offensive lineman, 6-5, 300 pounds, married a small petite cheerleader. On their wedding night when all of the festivities were over and they had gone to their room, he decided he was going to make a very important point. He took off his pants, about a 44-inch waist, and handed them to his bride and said, "Put these on." She said "What?" He said again, "Put these on." She said, "You are nuts." He repeated his request, "Put these on." So she did and of course they were much too large for her and she said, "I can’t wear these pants." He replied, "That’s right and I think it’s important to establish the fact right now that I will wear the pants in this family." She didn’t say anything and later that evening when she was disrobing, she took off her panties and said "Put these on." He said "Are you crazy? I can’t put those on." She said again, "Put these on." So he said he would try. He reached down and could only get them up to his calf on one leg. He

looked up and said, "There is no way I can get into these." She said, "That’s right and there is no way you are going to until you change your attitude!" I think it is important to keep players informed. I try to tell them the beginning of each week what their schedules will be or any other obligations they may have. Oneon-one meetings help in this area also. Everything being equal, I will always go with a senior over an underclassmen. Players know that if they stay with us, work hard and have the physical ability, they will be playing. From the Past to the Future These are just a few thoughts I have about the approach we have taken at BYU. It is a philosophy that worked for me. We have just hired a new head coach, Gary Crowton, who will do things differently than I did, and it will work out fine. He is a bright, creative young man with a variety of coaching experiences including junior college, small college, major college and, most recently, the NFL. I have some concerns about the direction that college football is going. I think the gap is getting even wider with the "haves" (BCS teams) and the "havenots." Expenses continue to increase and the revenues have flattened out considerably. How much longer some schools can afford to play football is a major concern. I see salaries going through the roof and yet we can’t afford to give our players laundry money. If they passed an NCAA rule that would enable us to give them $100 or so a month, it would probably be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Even more schools would be forced to quit playing football. That would truly be a shame. I believe that somehow, some way, some one will help sort things out and we will be able to continue with this great game.

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• Proceedings • 78th AFCA Convention • 2001 •