Chalk up another one for LaVell Edwards.
It’s been about 4,400 days since Edwards retired as the head football coach at BYU and four weeks since he had open heart surgery and spent Christmas in the hospital. But on Thursday, Edwards was a couple thousand miles from home receiving a national honor, keeping company with today’s elite of college football.
Of course, Edwards belongs.
The 82-year-old Edwards does not miss curtain calls. And neither does some of his supporting cast.
Sitting at a table with Gifford Nielsen, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer and John Beck at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Houston, Edwards was the first item on the agenda, recipient of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It was a great honor, a nice evening and I really appreciated what they did,” said Edwards on Friday. He also commented on BYU’s rehire of Robert Anae, the retirement of longtime assistant Lance Reynolds and on Ty Detmer.
Thanks to the use of a friend’s private jet, Edwards didn’t have to go through the rigors of an airport to get to Houston and quickly returned home where he is undergoing physical therapy (riding a stationary bike for 35 minutes at a time) as part of his recovery.
Even after 257 victories, 22 bowls and a national championship, Edwards was humbled at the honor and the coaches in the room.
At other tables in the banquet room that night were Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Bill Snyder (Kansas State), David Shaw (Stanford), James Franklin (Vanderbilt), and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, who received coach-of-the-year honors.
Edwards said the job O’Brien did picking up Penn State after a scandal, losing a close game and rattling off eight victories was amazing and deserving of the honor. “It’s one of the most remarkable jobs we’ve seen when people didn’t think they’d win a game.”
First awarded in 2000, the honor given Edwards recognizes the career accomplishments of some of college’s finest football coaches. It is the only award of its kind in the college football arena that highlights the “outstanding achievements” and “extraordinary contributions” which have “reflected honor and sportsmanship” to the game.
He’s in good company. Previous recipients include Darrell Royal, Charles McClendon, Bill Yeoman, Frank Broyles, Gene Stallings, Lou Holtz, Jack Pardee, Bo Schembechler, Tom Osborne, Barry Switzer, Vince Dooley, Bobby Bowden and Hayden Fry.
The fun part of this for a man raised in Orem, educated in Logan and Provo, has to be that all those men consider Edwards their peer.
Edwards said his recovery is coming along well, “I’ve not encountered any real problems since surgery.”
Asked if he had any advice for Detmer about stepping into college coaching, Edwards said he did not. “He knows what he needs and wants to do and I don’t have any idea of what his plans are. He’d be a good one, though.”
And what about the retirement of Reynolds, a former Edwards player and longtime assistant, and the lone remaining link to Edwards’ earliest coaching regime in the '70’s?
“He just did a great job and was very instrumental in all the things that happened. It is smart and intelligent. I don’t know all the factors that went with it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he got back into coaching.”
And what about the return of Robert Anae as BYU offensive coordinator after he left for Arizona two years ago?
“It was surprising after what had happened two years ago. Like I said, it was surprising, but I think he’ll do a very good job.”
Edwards said his immediate plans are to heal. He believes he is on the path to good health after the heart surgery to repair a calcification of one of his heart valves.
As he rides a stationary bike, aides push him to do more and more as part of the routine.
“I feel like my legs are rubber when I get off the bike. If anything, it’s going to get my legs in shape for the first time in a hundred years.”
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.