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Crowder Named To Colorado Sports Hall of Fame
A crowning honor for 'old coach'
By Craig Harper
From 1963-73 under the astute guidance of Crowder, the Buffs won 67 of 118 games, played in bowl games five of six years during a stretch from 1967-72 and climbed to as high as No. 3 in the final 1971-season poll – still the best finish in CU history.
Others had better winning percentages, but few of them inherited a program that was in as much turmoil as CU was in 1963. Throw out Crowder's first two 2-8 seasons and his record at CU was 63-33-2, a winning percentage of .643. Only Fred Folsom, the coach for 15 years off and on from 1895-1915, won more games (77).
As football coach and athletic director, a position he held from 1965-84, Crowder probably will be best remembered as the man who led Colorado into big-time college athletics.
Friday night in Denver Crowder will be one of four inductees into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
"I'm really thrilled he's finally getting the recognition he deserves," said Bobby Anderson, one of the 10 first-team All-Americans who played for Crowder. "Heck, it probably should've happened about 10 years ago."
Certainly Crowder deserved consideration then for his coaching accomplishments.
"He was not just a good coach, but a great coach – one of the greatest coaches in our lifetime," said Steve Ortmayer, a Crowder assistant from 1969-73 and long-time top aide in the NFL for the Raider's Al Davis.
“He was a football tactical genius,” Ortmayer continued. “He understood field position like Bobby Dodd and General Nehlen did. He understood offensive strategy the way Bud Wilkinson (his mentor) did. He understood war games, which is what football is; he would have been an outstanding general. And he has a penchant for recruiting talent.”
While at OU, Crowder had studied geology, and had no intention of coaching. After one year of pro ball in Canada, he entered the military to fulfill his two-year obligation as a result of joining ROTC in college.
“While I was in, Col. Blake (the coach at West Point) was looking for someone to coach quarterbacks,” Crowder recalled. “I understood he was he had been talking on the phone with Bud,” who recommended Crowder. It was then arranged for Crowder to be restationed at West Point.
“It was a matter of really blessed food fortune,: said Crowder, who was on the Army staff for one year.
Later, “Bud called me about six months before I was to get out of the Army and offered me a job on his staff. He gave me plenty of forewarning; otherwise I was planning on heading back to OU and work on a Master’s in geology. He said I could do both, but I knew that wasn’t practical.”
Crowder took the coaching job, :I enjoyed it immediately,” he said. I was just 23 or 24 when I went there, so it was a wonderful opportunity.”
Colorado approached Crowder in 1959 when the school was replacing Dal Ward. “I think they were looking at the Oklahoma staff, first because Oklahoma was having great success. But also because (CU athletic director) Harry Carlson and Bud were very close friends,” Crowder said. “They contacted me. I was only 26 or 27 at the time and figured I wasn’t experienced enough. Terry Brennan had gone to Notre Dame at about that age, and he really struggled.”
CU opted instead for Sonny Grandelius, a move which turned out to be good and bad. Grandelius took the Buffs to a Big Eight championship in 1961, but the program was then rocked by scandal and Grandelius was fired on March 17,1962.
Bud Davis was hired to coach the ’62 season, but after the Buffs went 2-8, it was time for Crowder.
Crowder admits his hiring was a gamble on CU’s part, “But it was also kind of a benefit. I was 31 when I was hired, so I was still pretty young to be going into that kind of a job. It proved a struggle, but there was also going to be three- or four-year rebuilding time during which I could learn on the job.”
The rebuilding didn’t take that long. Crowder’s third team went 6-2-2, and by 1967 the Buffs were 8-2, the victorious over Miami in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
Crowder faced many problems upon inheriting the job in ’63. An NCAA probation stripped CU of many of the top players that Grandelius had recruited, and there were factions –supports of Ward, Grandelius and Davis – tearing apart the structure of the program.
“The biggest problem was the lack of talent; they had taken eligibility from 30 to 40 fellows,” Crowder said. “There were some good players, but just not enough.”
As for the split among supporters, Crowder said, “it was my inclination that I wasn’t aligned with any of those preferences. I had that advantage, and the advantage that all those people wanted to see the program succeed.”
Strategist. “I was always impressed with Eddie’s ability to prepare us, to really analyze the strengths and weaknesses of an opposing team,” said Bobby Anderson, a quarterback in 1967 and ’68 before being switched to tailback in ’69. “He more or less was the offensive coordinator.
“One great thing he did with us was before a game he always had us play at least a full game mentally on this little card, a 5-by-8 card that was a field. We’d start on a drive and he’d give us a down and yardage, time, the score. By the time the game rolled around, you’d run through that card maybe 20 times until you were thinking the way he wanted you to think.
“One of his great sayings was, ‘Poise is the product of preparation.’ And I really believe it.”
Recruiter. In addition to producing 10 All-Americans, Crowder had more than 50 of his recruits drafted by the NFL, including seven in the first round.
“His staff did a good job and Eddie was impressive in the home,” said Bobby Anderson. “I got to know Eddie best when he started recruiting me, and I was always tremendously impressed by him. He impressed me as a guy who was extremely intelligent and thoughtful, and he was always very well-spoken. He was just a nice man.”
Staff Organizer. They call Miami (Ohio) the “Cradle of Coaches,” but few head college coaches have had a roster of assistants to match Crowder’s. His protégés include Jim Mora, Don James, Steve Sidwell, Dan Radakovich, Jerry Claiborne, Kay Dalton, Rudy Feldman, Chet Franklin, and Ortmayer.
“He had the ability to put together perhaps one of the top two staffs ever in college football,” said Ortmayer, reffering to the 1971 staff, which also included Mora, James, Claiborne, Franklin, Sidwell, and Radakovich. “The coaches that went thru there from ’69 to ’73, it’s astonishing.”
Asked why he was able to attract so many quality assistants, Crowder said, “I’ve wondered about that, too. I always first believed that anybody that you brought in had to have what you’d call competitive pedigree – they had to have played and/or coached at the very highest level of competition. Jim Mora was a guy I considered three or four years before I finally hired him (1968); I didn’t hire him earlier because I didn’t feel he had that experience yet.
“And the third thing that I always used as a criteria in judging people in hiring is, if you have any doubt, don’t hire them. I tried to always adhere to that.”
Crowder ran out of steam as football coach in 1973. His last team lost four of its last five games to finish 5-6, and Crowder stepped down.
There are those who insist he still had plenty of good years left.
“My only regret was that he got out of coaching as soon as he did,” Bobby Anderson said. “I think he had some promising years ahead. Everybody has a down year, but they usually bounce back. He’d have brought that program right back again.”
“I felt he could’ve done anything he wanted to,” added Ortmayer. “But he was so intense I think he was one of the first burnout cases.”
“I was still pretty young; I was 42,” Crowder said. “I believe it could be good for guys to take a sabbatical for one season, to kind of get refreshed. I’d been at it for 11 years and it’s pretty intense stuff. Mallory (Bill, Crowder’s successor) took a year off (after he was fired by CU), and I think it probably helped him mature a lot.
“I was depleted. I don’t believe too much in the idea of becoming burned out, but I do think I was at that point. We had gone thru first the racial adjustments – at one point I was accused of being a racist – and then came all the unrest associated with the Vietnam protests. When you add those things to the normal demands…”
The Crowder legacy remained. Using primarily Crowder recruits, Mallory was 9-2 in his second year and his third CU team went to the Orange Bowl.
“That’s one of the great programs of the century,” Ortmayer said of the Crowder era. “In my opinion, this program at Colorado has to sustain what they’ve accomplished in order to attain the greatness Eddie’s teams did.”
The Fairbanks era was the most difficult period of Crowder’s tenure as athletic director. He not only took heat for hiring Fairbanks, but was seen as the villain when the department ran up a million-dollar deficit and was forced to lop off baseball and wrestling, and the men’s and women’s programs in gymnastics and swimming.
“That was a time when most schools began women’s intercollegiate athletics,” Rautenstraus said. “Eddie was very supportive of that and wanted to do well, and was ready to put a good portion of money into - $225,000, as I recall.
“In those days we were wedded to the idea of not having a student fee, and we didn’t. It was also at the time that the university was under a line-item budget – the state legislature gave you a certain amount to spend and told you what you could spend it for; they never let us spend it on intercollegiate athletics. Eddie and I ran an intercollegiate athletic program entirely off self-generated athletic income.
“We had to put on an addition to the stadium and a new floor in the fieldhouse. In addition, we were very, very, adamant that we were going to build the Events-Conference building, which we did. I think it was largely because of Ed’s absolute diligence in this thing that we were able to make it go.”
Crowder, now 59, has kept busy since retiring from CU in 1984. He was involved in the oil and gas business; established Top Ten Enterprises, which produced motivational and instruction tapes by famous football coaches; and of course, had his two Mexican restaurants, which recently were sold.
For the past year, Crowder has been reunited with Jack Vickers, a major CU booster during Crowder’s years as coach and founder of The International golf tournament. His title with the tournament is director of corporate marketing.Crowder was also remarried last Oct. 4; his wife Kate has lived in Boulder most of her life.
And few people were happier than Crowder was last year when CU’s football team went 11-0 and climbed to a No. 1 ranking at the end of the regular season. Not just because he hired McCartney, but because of all the obstacles McCartney and his team overcame.
Contrary to Ortmayer’s belief, Crowder feels CU’s football program is stronger than ever.
Bill McCartney should be very happy to hear that.
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