LaVell Edwards, best known as the former head coach of the Brigham Young University football team is famous for his capacity to create winners. Under his direction, the BYU football team went to 22 bowl appearances, 257 victories and a national championship. He was the head coach of the Cougars from 1973 until his retirement. He is the sixth most winning coach in collegiate football history. He and his wife, Patty, are currently full-time missionaries in New York City, training stake public affairs directors in the Northeast. This article is taken from a talk he recently delivered at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors Center.
The Kingdom of God
When Pilate asked the Savior, if he was the king of the Jews, the Savior answered, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). With these few words, Jesus declared the difference between the world in which we live and the world of his kingdom, and even though they are separate worlds, they can both be ours if we make the kinds of choices and decisions that help us to function in both worlds.
Trying to Find a Testimony
I remember as a young man, I grew up as one of 14 in a family that was very active in the church. My father was a bishop and a stake president, a very well thought-of man in the small community in which we grew up. Having the gospel and going to Church each Sunday was a part of our life.
In the family that I came from, it was all laid out: when I reached the appropriate age, I was baptized; when I reached the appropriate age, I received the priesthood, then advanced in the priesthood and went along just like those that are raised in the Church.
When I was somewhere around 15 or 16, though, I began to worry a little bit about the fact that I’d hear people bear testimony and talk about some kind of manifestation of the Spirit, and I used to wonder if, in fact, I did have a testimony of the gospel. I always believed in the Church, but I felt that I just wasn’t getting it when I couldn’t come to grips with this matter of having a manifestation of this testimony.
Finally, the realization struck me that I probably had this testimony for a whole lot longer than I had ever known. Why is it then that you believe? As I look at the audience, I see a lot of different people, a lot of different sizes and shapes, and I realize the thing that made the gospel so important to me was its individual nature. It’s here for each one of us at whatever level we want to make it a part of our lives. That level is going to be determined by each one of us.
Being raised in this kind of family helped me, but it was my decision within myself to determine at what level this gospel would function in my life. It would be up to me.
Preparation is the Key
It all comes back to this matter of preparation. As we go through life, there are periods of time when we are more in tune, working at it more than at other times. It doesn’t remain constant. We are either moving forward with it, or we’re letting ourselves slip just a little bit.
On my desk in my office, I have a saying that success is a journey and not a destination. We simply do not become successful and remain there without working at it. We do not gain a testimony or do anything worthwhile in our lives unless we work at it every day for as long as we live. This matter of preparation has been interesting to me. As I have retired from coaching and thought back occasionally about experiences, I never really think in terms of games won or lost, or championships or a national championship. What I think about are people. What I think about are relationships.
If I could make one overall assessment of that experience it would be that those that were the most successful were not always the ones that were the most gifted or the most endowed. That’s a fundamental principle and something important for each one of us to recognize. A lot of times we have a tendency to look within ourselves and wish that we had this or that–if we had more speed, more intellect, more beauty or whatever, then life would be a lot better.
Should Steve Young be a Quarterback?
A great example was a young man by the name of Steve Young who many of you have listened to or watched play. Obviously, he was one of the great quarterbacks in the history of college and professional football. When Steve Young played football in high school, he was not all that heavily recruited, because even though he played quarterback, he probably didn’t throw five or six passes his senior year. He played on a team where they ran the ball, where he never threw it and certainly never took the ball and did what we call a drop back pass like they lay in the pros, where you take the ball and drop back five steps and make the determination where you are going to throw the football. He had never done that.
I remember when I first met Steve it was at a fireside, right after the football season. I was in New York City with a quarterback by the name of Marc Wilson who was an All-American. At the time, we were taking a national tour trying to meet the press and get recognition for this little school in the West that had never done much in the way of football on a national level. Steve was the Young Men’s president and he conducted the meeting where we were to speak.
I knew that Steve could run and had good athletic ability, but I had not seen the film of his playing yet. I knew he was an interesting prospect to bring into the program, but it was as I watched him handle himself and conduct this meeting that I made up my mind that we were going to offer him a scholarship. He probably wouldn’t be the quarterback, but we had to have a young man of that caliber in the program.
When we offered Steve the scholarship and a trip to come out west and see the school, he made one request. He said, “I will come to BYU on one condition–that is if you give me a legitimate chance to be a quarterback–not just a token chance, a legitimate chance. I know I’m not the type of quarterback that you need right now in your kind of offense, but I want a chance. If you assure me that you’ll give me this chance, then I’ll try and if it doesn’t work out I will move to any position you would like me to play.”
I said, “That would be fine, Steve.”
He came to BYU as a freshman. We had one of the fine offensive quarterback coaches in the business, and this guy did not believe that Steve Young could ever be a quarterback, because the first time he took a step in center, turned around, backed away, took his necessary drops, and then went to throw the football, he just had no accuracy at all. The ball would go in the ground, over the wall, off to the left, off to the right.
When you throw a football, you bring it up and your elbow is supposed to be up above your shoulder. Then when you release the ball, your thumb comes down. If you release it with the thumb up, the ball can go anywhere. That’s what Steve would do. He’d throw it, and the ball would spin out of there and go all directions. He could run, but there’s no way he could drop back and throw a football.
Steve Young never got any encouragement at all from this coach. Yet, Steve Young watched what Jim McMahon did, what some of the other quarterbacks were doing, and talked with them, and then on his own went out before and after practice and grabbed some time. That winter after his freshman year, he’d go back in the field house on his own and work on the different techniques that he observed in others.
Fortunately for Steve, and fortunately for all of us for that matter, this great coach got another job, became a head coach somewhere, and we hired a guy who came in one day and asked me, “Are you thinking about moving Steve to defense?” I said, “Yes, we are. We’re thinking very seriously about it.”
He said, “Do me a favor. Before you do, go down and watch him throw, and then more importantly watch the guy who’s supposed to be our quarterback next year throw.
Relentless Personal Practice
What had happened is that Steve had made himself able not only to throw the ball with a nice spiral, but he became the most accurate quarterback, in terms of pass efficiency in the NCAA and in the NFL. Steve Young did this thorough preparation.
If there is one thing that I could leave to you young people, and I firmly believe and have seen it, is the knowledge that there is something that you can do extremely well, if it is important to you.
Now, this weekend I’ll be with Steve Young, but there are things you can do that Steve Young can’t do. What you can do will be determined by how hard you want it. This matter of preparation will determine a great deal the success that you are going to have in your chosen endeavor.
Each of you is going to have many great opportunities. Likewise you’ll know discouragement and disappointments. How you handle these disappointments is going to determine your degree of success.
Don’t Watch for Defensive Linemen
I remember one spring we were looking for a new quarterback, as our prior quarterback had graduated. Now, the 15 days that a college team has for spring practice is probably the most important period of time in the life of a football player who is trying to make the team the next fall. It is during that time when you find out what a person can do and whether you can, in fact, count on him to be a player for you. When you come back in the fall, you simply do not have the time. You are limited on the number of practices and you must get ready for that opening game.
This particular day we were having a scrimmage, and we called a play named Red Right 66, which means the quarterback takes the football, takes his drop, and he has to watch what the middle linebacker does. Which way the linebacker drops is his key to determine whether he looks to the right or to the left to throw the football.
The outside receiver is running what we call a curl pattern, they go down about 12 or 14 yards, curl in, the tight end goes up curls about 12 yards deep, and the two halfbacks are in the flat. If anybody comes, they block it, if not, they go into the flat. At this particular scrimmage, this quarterback takes his drop.
Now if you’re a defensive lineman what is that you like to do more than anything else, more than breathe? Sack the quarterback, is that right? You know it doesn’t matter if he’s on your team, if it’s your mother playing quarterback, those defensive lineman, they’re just a different breed.
We had a Tongan, a great young man by the name of Setema Gali, a returned missionary, a student-body president there in one of the high schools in Orem, but you get him in a football uniform and he’s something else. He had great speed and great determination. He’s a big guy, well-built. He’s playing right defensive end, and as the quarterback took his drop, he was looking at his key to determine which way he was going to throw the football, and about the time he took the fifth step and he’s getting ready to throw the football, the left tackle misses the block on Setema. As the quarterback gets ready to throw, Setema comes in and hits him about as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen anybody get hit on the field. He just unloaded on the guy.
The quarterback wasn’t a very big guy to begin with and when he got hit, the ball flew one way, his helmet spun around, the wind was knocked out of him, and he couldn’t breathe for awhile. They had to come out and give him some smelling salts and revive him. When he looked up his eyes were crossed and he had a mouth full of grass, and he was looking through the ear hole of his helmet. If he hadn’t been on the football field, he would have cried. Quite frankly, that just hurts.
I went home that night and on bended knee thanked the Lord that I no longer played the game, but as we finally got him revived a little bit, we asked him if he wanted to come out and he said, “No, I’m fine.”
Running the Play Again
Anyway, we left him in and went along with the scrimmage, and about four plays later we called Red Right 66 again. Why did we call it? Was it because we’re sadistic or didn’t like him? We called it for one reason. We had all those All-Americans–Gary Sheide, Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and later on Ty Detmer. We had one of the greatest runs with those five quarterbacks all in a row who each played two years and each made All-American.
They were all different people-different sizes, different abilities and different personalities–but the interesting thing was that virtually every year that we had one of those quarterbacks, we had a quarterback that played behind them who had more physical talent in terms of throwing the football, and in many cases were bigger and stronger and faster than each one of these guys.
But one of the reasons why they didn’t play and why they were beaten out by the other was not only this matter of preparation, but this very thing that we were looking for when we called Red Right 66 again. Because when we called it, as the quarterback takes the football and he’s taking his 5th step drop, if he, for a fraction of a second, takes his eye off the key to check if Setema is being blocked (which anybody who had any intelligence at all would), this guy has no chance of ever being a quarterback for me. If he does play, he’ll wind up getting you beat, because what happens is you get into a ball game, and most games are a series of disasters-missed blocks and missed tackles, missed assignments and a few good plays to offset all the bad things.
If he takes the football and starts looking over here to see if that huge lineman who just injured him is blocked, and something else is happening over there, and he’s looking back over there, you can imagine what’s going on down the field. The wide receivers are going to quit working their tails off to get open and get deep, because they know he’s not going to throw it because he’s going to be scrambling around.
We called Red Right 66 again, just to see what this guy would do. As it turned out, he watched his key, stepped back, threw the pass and completed and got nailed again. He did stay in and kept his eye on his key knowing where to throw the ball.
Keeping Our Eye on the Key
Now each one of us here in this room are not going to be facing blitzing linebackers or running Red Right 66s, but we’re going to have experiences, and we’re going to have events in our lives that are going to be like a blitzing linebacker. How do we offset that?
We offset that by keeping our eye on the key, whatever that key may be.
As we are working to gain a testimony and working to be in that kingdom Jesus told Pilate about, we are commanded in the D&C 101:22: “Behold it is my will, that all they who call upon my name, and worship me according to my everlasting gospel, should gather together and stand in holy places.” We can be in this world and stand in holy places. Those holy places could be our home, could be facilities such as this, could be the temple. It can be the state of mind we’re in. We are commanded to do this and it is an ongoing process based on the choices that we make each day.
President Hinckley once said that our success in life is not going to be determined by large awesome decisions but by the small daily choices that we make each day. That will determine the track in which we will run. The small choices are so important to us. It is like those players that stood on the sideline with me. They made the kinds of choices that took them away-whether it was a little bit more of preparation that they could have done had they wanted to play.They had all the ability to play, but for whatever reason, they just couldn’t force themselves to do what was necessary.I suspect we are all that way. As the Lord put us here, he looks down upon us in our choices and our decisions. I’m sure there are times when he’s more pleased with us than at other times. But if we continue to work, the plan is there, the opportunities are there and it is up to us to keep going.