What I learned from coach LaVell Edwards on a church pew

Coach LaVell Edwards. Photo by Mark Philbrick, BYU.

By now even most casual sports fans know that legendary Brigham Young University football coach LaVell Edwards passed away on Dec. 29. In the days since, enough lines about his legacy have been written and spoken to fill the stadium that bears his name.

His impact on players, their families, the university and sports fans around the world is immeasurable by even the longest yard marker. Still, as I’ve reflected on my own feelings about the beloved coach, I’m reminded that legacies are not always made with 60,000 people watching.

Sometimes, it only takes one.

In the early 1990s my wife, Kodi, and I lived in Provo and attended the same congregation as Coach Edwards and his sweet wife, Patti. One colorful fall Sunday morning, my small family was sitting near the back of the chapel when I noticed a couple shuffling in the rear door. I turned to see the Edwardses sliding into seats right behind us.

With just a few minutes before the meeting started, I turned to shake his hand and say a quick hello. Coach Edwards yawned and I remember his big hands covering and then rubbing his friendly face, as if waking up his senses before church began.

I laughed. “Tough game last night. Get home late?”

I already knew the answer — of course he had. The Cougars had lost an away game, flown home after midnight and Edwards revealed he’d arrived home after 3 a.m.

We spoke a moment or two about the game, and I told him how impressed I was that he was in church. I told him it would’ve been awfully easy to stay home, particularly coming off a tough loss and facing a building full of Sunday-morning quarterbacks like me.

Instead, he smiled and leaned forward. “Of course I’m here.”

I wish I could say he then put his strong hand on my shoulder and taught me some valuable lesson. Or that he quoted some scripture or church leader or linked that experience to a testimony about the importance of the Sabbath Day.

He didn’t. He just smiled and asked how my family was doing.

It’s been nearly 20 years since that moment in the back of the Provo chapel, but I remember it with the kind of clarity that only comes when the Holy Ghost has done the teaching.

How many times have I returned late on a Saturday night or early on a Sunday morning from a business or personal trip and heard the humble echo of Coach Edwards.

“Of course I’m here.”

To be clear, surely the Lord knows that sometimes work, travel and sickness on the Sabbath Day are unavoidable. And sometimes it’s not physically possible or perhaps safe for someone suffering to hop in their car and find their way to a chapel.

But the perfect one also knows perfectly that sometimes we might take the easy way out when fatigue, stress or a headache greet us on Sunday morning. What if instead of rolling over, what heaven most wants is for us to say a prayer and walk into church with our tired bodies to feed our hungry souls?

Oddly, I almost look forward to the next time a bout of jet lag begs my body to stay in bed. I’ll enjoy remembering that big yawning face leaning in and saying, “Of course I’m here.”

Coach Edwards might be gone, but his legacy will quietly live on — one fan at a time.

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