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Tommy Hudspeth, the coach generally credited with building the foundation for the rise of BYU football the last 50 years, died Tuesday morning in Oklahoma at the age of 83 from complications of cancer.
"A fine coach and a great gentleman," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe noted via Twitter shortly after Hudspeth's passing.
Legendary BYU coach LaVell Edwards, who succeeded Hudspeth in 1972, has often said that Hudspeth deserves the credit for turning around a program that had never won a conference championship until the former University of Tulsa defensive back arrived in Provo in 1964.
Hudspeth compiled a 39-42-1 record at BYU from 1964-71 and led BYU to its first-ever conference title, in 1965. The Cougars had four winning seasons during his eight-year tenure after recording just 12 in their first 39 seasons.
BYU will commemorate the 50th anniversary of that 1965 championship team with a reunion of players on Oct. 10 when it plays host to East Carolina at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"A lot of the success that we had can be attributed to what Tommy did," Edwards said in a 2012 interview. "He instilled that winning culture that was missing for a long, long time."
In a 2009 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Hudspeth fondly recalled his eight years in Provo after being hired away from the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders to succeed Hal Mitchell in 1964.
During the country's racial strife in the 1960s, Hudspeth said he was "made aware" that LDS Church leadership wanted him to add African-American players to his team, and he immediately recruited the program's first black player, Ronnie Knight, a defensive back from Sand Springs, Okla.
Former quarterback Marc Lyons, who was recruited by Hudspeth, told BYUtv Tuesday that Hudspeth was an excellent recruiter who brought in former Marines to instill toughness to the program.
"Very charismatic," Lyons said. "He put so much positive emphasis on everything that he talked about, and in doing so, he got good players to go there. That's what initially turned it around."
Lyons said Hudspeth was a "tough coach," but respected enough by his players that they carried him on their shoulders after a big win.
One of those players was Virgil Carter, BYU's first great quarterback and an academic All-American. In 1966, Hudspeth and Carter led BYU to an 8-2 record, its best season since 1932.
Hudspeth resigned after going 5-6 in 1971 and recommended that Edwards take his place. He coached at UTEP from 1972-73 and then returned to the professional ranks from 1974-81, coaching the Chicago Fire, Detroit Lions and Toronto Argonauts.
In 2006, he was hired by Tulsa as an assistant in the area of development and fundraising for athletics.