Larson takes first place in Lehi coaching wins
With Saturday night’s victory over Highland of Idaho in Rexburg, the Lehi High School football team secured Coach Ed Larson’s place in the record books as he now holds the No. most coaching wins in Pioneer football history with 58 after breaking a tie with Coach Lou. Andrus (1975-1988) at age 57.
Andrus himself is a local legend and a distinguished company. He spent 30 years as a teacher, coach, and administrator at Lehi and his 1980 team won the school’s first state football title, while in Class 2A.
Things have changed a bit over the past 34 years. The Pioneers now compete in Class 5A against other large urban schools in the state’s largest division with 32 schools. This means that for all teams this is the most difficult road to the championship.
As the school suffered the pains of rapid growth and classification change, the football team fell on hard times after Lehi won the Class 3A football title in 2000 under the guidance of the Coach Steve Clements.
From 2002 to 2013, the program’s record was 34-87. Player morale suffered, as did community support. It was under this set of circumstances that Larson arrived at Lehi ahead of the 2014 season.
“I attended Coach Larson’s first parent meeting, when I had a son who was going to ninth grade,” former booster parent Tom said. Brannelley. “The football culture in Lehi was so bad that my son played for two years in the youth league and never saw the high school coach once.”
He wanted to do whatever he could to help change that.
Brannelley recalls that Larson had a long list of requests for support that he presented at that meeting. One of the things he wanted was to have a website for the program. Brannelley’s professional background is in site design, so he volunteered to help with that.
There was a lot of grumbling around town when Larson was hired because he came from Timpanogos, where his teams hadn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs during his tenure. However, Brannelley was impressed with his vision for the program’s future at Lehi.
“Ed knew that in a big school he had to be a coach and a CEO,” he said. “He understood that we can get help with all the sports at school if the football team is successful. They don’t have to win a title every year; they just have to be in contention.
Larson also wanted to see a rebrand. After much discussion, the Pioneer mascot was retained, but the logo was changed to the Longhorn-like one the school now uses instead of the old wagon wheel design. He also delegated tasks to those he trusted to move the program in the right direction.
Over the past five seasons, the Pioneers have won nearly three-quarters of their games, so most people have forgotten that Larson’s tenure didn’t get off to a good start. His freshman year in 2014, the team went 0-10 and scored more than two touchdowns in a contest only twice during the season.
But it got better. The following year, the team won three games and suffered two narrow losses. They still didn’t qualify for the playoffs, but the following year in 2016, they went 8-4 and reached the state quarterfinals.
Brannelley said that after the game that secured Lehi a winning record this third season, he and Larson were going back to school to lock up the iPads. The coach looked at him and said, “I just guaranteed another year here.”
Then came 2017. The Pioneers won 12 games, the most ever in Lehi history according to renowned state football expert George Felt. They claimed an undefeated region title and won every match in the tournament by substantial margins on their way to the state crown.
Since then, the Pioneers have made the tournament every year. They won another 5A title last season and are once again highly regarded. Brannelley said the mindset had completely changed. “For kids who aspire to play football now, they only know the team as a competitor every year,” he said.
Brannelley was not surprised by Larson’s success. “Despite the split with Skyridge, the base was there, but if you don’t have leadership it’s not going to happen,” he said.
“Early on, it was clear that Coach Larson got it. Even in the tough times, he said they didn’t represent what the program could be,” Brannelley said.
He helped train another father, Trevor Clifton, to take over after he left the program. Clifton is a board member of the Lehi Gridiron Club, the program’s official booster group.
“Coach Larson has built the Lehi football program on the pillars of trust, hard work and personal responsibility,” Clifton said. “Doing things the right way helps young boys grow into young men, leading to success on the football pitch and setting them up for success for the rest of their lives.
“I got involved in Lehi football six years ago because I loved that vision and wanted to support it,” he added. “The character and courage that Coach has always instilled in his teams will be his lasting legacy at Lehi High School.”
Former athletic director Sean Yeager considers Larson to be truly one of a kind. “Anyone who knows him will agree,” he said. “Ed is more than a coach. He is a father figure and a mentor to his players present and past. I have seen him with my own eyes many times say the most inspiring things to children.
“It’s not just what he says, it’s his quick wit, incredible sense of humor and compassion,” Yeager continued. “It really is a sight to behold. As an educator and former coach, I still have moments where I wonder what Coach Larson would do or say right now.
“I consider him a true friend and couldn’t be happier for him as he rightly becomes Lehi’s most winning football coach. I send my warmest congratulations to him on this important milestone,” a- he concluded.
Lehi Principal Doug Webb is also a fan. “We are very grateful for all that Coach Larson has accomplished over the past few years,” he said.
“He is a great mentor and really cares about every student-athlete. I learned from him watching him lead. He and his wife are dedicated to the success of Lehi and all students. I’m proud to be associated with such a great coach and such a great community,” Webb continued.
“I offer my thanks to everyone who has worked so hard and been part of our success,” he said. “Coach Larson is truly one of the best and someone I’m happy to call a friend. Kudos to Coach Larson and the Lehi Football Program.