Influence Of LaVell Edwards Will Be On Display For BYU/Texas Game

Oct 24, 2023, 10:03 PM

PROVO, Utah – The idea that BYU/Texas would be a conference game is the stuff of dreams. It was a type of dream that many following BYU football have had, but very few believed it would be possible.

That dream is realized on Saturday when BYU takes on No. 7 Texas in a Big 12 clash in Austin.

The two programs will be league foes for only one year before Texas moves on to the big payday in the SEC. But it’s a moment that the BYU football program has been seeking for decades.

RELATED: Subscribe To ‘A Century of Cougar Football’ Podcast diving into the history of BYU over the past 100 years

A big reason for BYU’s dream being realized is thelate great head coach LaVell Edwards.

Edwards guided BYU football to 29 years of excellence, rewriting the record books in college football and turning BYU into a brand on the gridiron.

LaVell Edwards impacted the careers of Steve Sarkisian, Kalani Sitake

The influence of Edwards will be on display throughout Saturday’s Big 12 showdown. Two of Edwards’s former players, Kalani Sitake and Steve Sarkisian, will be on the sidelines coaching up BYU and Texas, respectively.

“We’re playing a really good BYU football team, 5-2—obviously, my alma mater. I know a lot of those coaches well. Kalani Sitake and I were teammates back in the day and I can’t believe he’s in year eight, and he’s doing a heck of a job.”

Sarkisian arrived at BYU in the winter of 1995. He was one of the nation’s top Junior College quarterbacks. During his official visit to BYU in ’95, Kalani Sitake was his host.

Kalani Sitake: Recruiting Host

The two never played on the same BYU team together as Sitake left to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Oakland shortly after Sark enrolled. But Sitake played a part in Sark’s recruitment to BYU as a host during Sarkisian’s official visit.

“Sark is all about ball, man, and he saw a really good team,” Sitake said. “I think the biggest concern for him during that time was if John Walsh was going to come out early for the draft or return for a senior year. All Sark was waiting for was that moment. I don’t want to sit here and act like I did a great job.”

Both Sitake and Sarkisian are byproducts of the LaVell Edwards coaching tree. Sark’s connections to Edwards and BYU helped get his foot in the door at USC when Norm Chow was the offensive coordinator. Sark was part of the zenith of the USC dynasty.

Sitake immediately began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at BYU after his playing days concluded. He later joined former BYU player Kyle Whittingham on Whitt’s staff at Utah for a decade.

What Sarksian remembers from Coach Edwards

They have taken different routes in the football coaching world, but they are bonded by their connections to LaVell Edwards and BYU football.

“One thing that Coach Edwards, I have one specific story that I always hold on to. I remember we were in a game and it was right near the end of the first half and it was a timeout and there was some discussion on what play to call. There was a dialogue with Coach Chow, our offensive coordinator, and Roger French, our O-Line coach, of what we were going to do. Nobody could really agree. And I never forget Coach Edwards looking at me and said, ‘Sark, what do you want to run?’ I referenced a play that I want to run and he turned around and said, ‘Okay, we’re running the play (I just referenced).’

“So I think the one thing that he did a great job in my time there was making you feel like the coach believed in you. That there was rapport there as the quarterback that I was his guy and that he believed in what I was able to do. I think that that’s something we’ve tried to do here is that when you become the guy at quarterback, there’s a sense of belief in that guy. That’s why there’s that constant dialogue to try to put them in the best position that they feel comfortable with to go execute.”

Sarkisian only played two seasons at BYU but his impact was as strong as many that rolled through Edwards’ quarterback factory in Provo. The El Camino JC product led BYU to its only New Year’s Day bowl game, an appearance in the 1997 Cotton Bowl. He guided BYU to a 14-1 record and No. 5 final ranking that season.

Sarkisian has been led this season by Texas starter Quinn Ewers. On Saturday, he’s expected to turn to No. 2 QB Maalik Murphy as Ewers recovers from a shoulder injury suffered last week.

Kalani’s BYU is a lot like the one LaVell led

Quarterbacks were an essential piece to LaVell’s success at BYU. But he also made sure to run a program that the players loved being part of. That continues for Sitake, who is the only head coach in BYU history to have been a former player for Edwards.

“Pretty much all of it,” said Sitake on what he incorporates from Edwards into his BYU program today. “I got into coaching because I loved the way LaVell coached me. I love the way that he worked with his staff. It’s rough that he’s not here with us anymore. But I keep in touch with his family quite often and his wife Patti is awesome. … But you see it in everybody that’s been coached by LaVell. From Andy Reid to Sark to Kyle Whittingham to all of these great players that have ever played here at BYU … it’s just nice when you have a college experience with LaVell. Much of what we do here is exactly what he did for me. I’m not a creator of anything, but when I see something that’s really nice, I want to keep it going.'”

BYU/Texas is a big opportunity for the Cougars

Like Edwards, Sitake’s BYU teams have never been shy about playing in the biggest games. A stage like the one that awaits on Saturday against a Texas program that’s a College Football Playoff contender is a huge opportunity.

One of the calling cards of Edwards throughout his 29 years as head coach, whether it was a big rivalry game or a game against a lowly opponent. He treated it all the same. That still carries with Sarkisian to this day.

“The second thing about Coach Edwards that I’ll always keep with me is he always kept things light; he was himself,” said Sarkisian. “I know everybody sees the stern face on the sidelines from back in the day. But he was a really light-hearted guy. He was a lot of fun to be around. The players liked to be around him and I think that goes back to having really good relationships with your players. That was something that he had when I was there as well.”

It also didn’t hurt Edwards that he won a lot of ball games during his time at BYU; 257 games to be exact. That was a different era when the passing attack was in its infancy, and Edwards leaned into that identity to do something different.

Seeking a championship culture

Sitake has been candid that he doesn’t care how games are won; he wants to win. That’s the goal in front of him as he looks to continue to build up the program LaVell once turned into a national power.

“We’re trying to drive that culture that I think can help win games and be a championship culture. And that’s what we’re trying to get done,” Sitake said. “It fights right in line with what a lot of people do. It’s not just LaVell. But LaVell is the best part of college football. People like him and you see the influence that he’s had in so many people’s lives and not just coaches. But there’s a bunch of men that are out there doing things better because they got to play for a legend like LaVell and it’s just really cool that a good number of them are coaching football.”

BYU vs. No. 7 Texas

Date: Saturday, October 28, 2023

Location: Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. (MT)


Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM) — Extended pregame coverage begins at 9 a.m.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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Influence Of LaVell Edwards Will Be On Display For BYU/Texas Game