Roger French was a legend at BYU.
Legends don’t die, only people do.
And while French passed away on Saturday at the age of 86, he will always be a large block in BYU football’s legacy, having coached as an assistant under LaVell Edwards for 21 years, spanning a major part of the former head coach’s tenure, including the 1984 national championship season.
Players called him “The Creetch,” short for “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” — because he used to wander around the track at the school’s fieldhouse, where the Cougar football offices were, at all hours of the night. He did so unshaven, un-showered, unkempt, hair uncombed, decked out in a large shirt, “looking like a monster,” he once said, “thinking about football.”
During football season, French virtually lived out of his office, leaving his home in Minnesota to attend to his work in Provo — coaching the offensive line.
Unlike Edwards, French was bold and brash in his demeanor, swearing in an intense, colorful manner, doing jumping-jacks on the sideline during games, speaking in forthright terms to his players.
Twenty years ago, he said this about that:
“I call it like it is. I don’t B.S. I may not always be right, but I don’t hold back. I don’t say, when my guys make mistakes, ‘Oh, it’s OK, Johnny.’ No, I tell them they were bad, when they are, especially after we’ve talked about it endlessly.
“I do that with all the players, offensive linemen, quarterbacks, running backs ... I tell the running backs, if they want to mess around, running east-west when they should be going straight ahead, ‘Hey, run east-west right over here to the sideline by me and sit down on the bench.‘ Some of the other coaches think that’s not right for me to say, but there’s no way I’m not going to make a comment when I see mistakes. I yell because I care.
“I’m not here to make a name for myself, anymore. I’m here to make these guys better. So I tell it like it is. Some players don’t react well to it, but it’s never personal. Off the field, these guys are humans. On it, they’re football players. I’m sure, when I start yelling, a lot of my guys wish I would die right on the spot. They hate me. But I just believe in doing it the right way. You’ve got to do it the right way. I’ll worry about feelings later.’‘
The feelings, from both directions, came when players grew older and wiser enough to know French had their best interests at heart.
As Edwards said back then: ”It takes the kids awhile to figure Roger out. But he’s got a great love for them.“
That love churned out more than 40 professional football players who may have loathed French when he coached and drove and swore at them, but they appreciated him when they matured into men.
French’s passion for the game never waned, through the end of his career, and likely through his last few breaths.
“Every game is a highlight for me,″ he said all those years ago. “I love it. Football has been good to me. I’ll just keep going, keep moving. Once I stop moving, I’m dead. I’ll coach football until I die.“
Rest in peace, Creetch.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.