BYU Quarterback Factory Reinvented How Football Was Played

Nov 2, 2022, 2:45 PM
BYU Quarterback, Jim McMahon, LaVell Edwards...
Former BYU QB Jim McMahon is one of the stars of the famed BYU quarterback factory. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is centered around the BYU football quarterback factory. The inspiration is Episode 4 of “A Century of Cougar Football” podcast hosted by KSL Sports BYU Insider Mitch Harper, which examines the program’s history dating back to the first season in 1922. Follow A Century of Cougar Football on all podcasting platforms or KSLsports.com.

PROVO, Utah – The BYU quarterback is one of the top positions in college football. When people dive into the numbers, and the history BYU has had at football’s most important position, it’s remarkable what a faith-based program has been able to produce.

It all started with a vision from LaVell Edwards. While major conferences were focused on running the football, BYU was set to take off through the air.

Edwards hired innovative coaches around him like Dewey “The Swamp Rat” Warren and Doug Scovil. They knew there was nothing to lose. BYU was a mediocre program before LaVell was hired as head coach in 1972. If they failed, they’d only get fired like many coaches before them. So why not take the risk?

The risk was worth it as BYU formed an identity that had the football world wanting to visit Provo to learn more from Edwards.

Think about this run of quarterbacks, Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, and Robbie Bosco. Then before Nielsen, there was lesser known Gary Sheide, who kicked the prolific passing attack into overdrive.

After Bosco, Ty Detmer, who you know, only arrived in Provo as a Pee-Wee Herman doppelganger to toppling the No. 1 Miami Hurricanes on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

The win over Miami in 1990 was a crowning achievement for Edwards’ passing attack. However, detractors always tried to diminish BYU’s success pointing to conference affiliation in the WAC, or the system is greater than the talent of the QBs.


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The system was great, yes. But the talent of the quarterbacks was special too. There was a Heisman winner in Detmer, Davey O’Brien recipients, NCAA record-breaking passers, and guys that later went on to NFL success.

LaVell and the BYU quarterback factory had coaching greats like Bill Walsh and Mike Leach studying BYU’s every move. It was a visionary offense that changed the way football was played forever.

The impact of BYU’s famed quarterback position carries on to this day. After Ty Detmer, the last star QB under LaVell was Steve Sarkisian. But then in the 21st century, signal-callers Brandon Doman kept the QB tradition alive in Gary Crowton’s first year.

Then John Beck and Max Hall shined under Bronco Mendenhall. Next, there was Taysom Hill, then Zach Wilson, and, currently, Jaren Hall.

It’s a storied position, and to learn more about the factory, listen to “A Century of Cougar Football.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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