Gary Crowton will silence some – but not all – of his critics."> Gary Crowton will silence some – but not all – of his critics.">

Gary Crowton Seizes the Opportunity to Succeed

<I><B>COMMENTARY</B></I><BR> Days before BYU's opening game against a determined Notre Dame squad, it's time for diehard Cougar fans not to be "girlie men" anymore. Barring injury to key starters, Cougar football will regain some of its lost luster this season and head coach <b>Gary Crowton</b> will silence some – but not all – of his critics.

In his first three years as head coach, I can point to only one game where Crowton's coaching decisions absolutely cost BYU a win – last year's 18-14 loss to Stanford in Provo. Others might argue other games, but as far as coaching decisions, this is the only game I would definitively conclude as a coach's loss.

The reasons for the Cougars depressing record the last two seasons can be summed up in five words: youth, inexperience, injuries and turnovers.

Crowton inherited a team that was 29-20 since the 1996 Cotton Bowl (four seasons) victory over Kansas State and the Cougars posted a 6-6 record the year before he assumed the reigns. Though he is 21-17 after three seasons, he has produced two consecutive losing seasons (5-7 and 4-8) – the worst record in almost 30 years.

Upon Crowton's arrival in the winter of 2000, he essentially had no choice but to try and sign LaVell Edwards' recruits with only seven weeks left before national signing day.

During his first two recruiting years (2001 and 2002), Crowton effectively had his hands tied with a very limited number of scholarships (approximately 20 scholarships) compared to 50 scholarships handed out by most other major colleges in the country. That's a huge disadvantage, especially when you have to change the complexion of your personnel to match your style of play on offense and defense.

Moreover, Crowton honored every scholarship offered by Edwards and has to wait until next spring to finally see all of players he did not recruit.

This year was the first time he had his full complement of 25 scholarships available. An objective evaluation of his recruiting classes indicates Crowton and his staff are effectively wooing and signing a higher caliber of athlete to BYU.

Turnovers killed the Cougars last year. They ended a dismal 4-8 season with 22 interceptions, 17 fumbles and two blocked punts. Even worse was that three interceptions were returned for touchdowns; three fumbles were returned for touchdowns; and their only two blocked punts were returned for touchdowns – eight touchdowns scored from within their own 35-yard line.

In fact, BYU gave up 56 points in turnovers last season plus another 27 points in field goals scored off Cougar turnovers – for a whopping 83 points scored by opponents from BYU turnovers!

When Crowton took over the team in 2001, he had no depth – especially at running back, defensive back and linemen. After running back Luke Staley was injured during the Mississippi State game plus the injuries in the Hawaii game, coaches had to convert a safety to running back! Other players were moved around to cover other injuries.

With approximately eight scholarships available in 2002, Crowton signed running backs, defensive backs, and linemen to plug gaping holes. The Cougars today still lack quality depth at key positions because of LDS mission departures, injuries, and suspensions related to honor code violations.

Crowton's critics consistently point out his frequent excuse that the Cougars are "young and inexperienced" has worn out its welcome. Unfortunately, it happens to be true. BYU has been very young the past two seasons. The two-deep depth chart for Saturday's season-opener against Notre Dame includes 14 freshmen. Yes, the Cougars will be "young and inexperienced" again this year, and they will make typical rookie mistakes. It's unlikely that Crowton will use this excuse again – even if it's true.

BYU has not avoided playing with the big boys. Even though they canceled a home-and-home series last year with BCS national championship team Louisiana State (LSU), BYU still played a Top 10 slate of teams in strength-of-schedule. Notre Dame had a similar schedule and closed the season at 5-7.

BYU has had an inexplicably bad-luck streak of key injuries over the last three seasons. The Cougars lost their top two quarterbacks last year to broken hand injuries and played most of its rival game with a 4th-string quarterback who started the season on the scout team – and they lost the game by a one-sided 3-0 final score.

Honor Code - Despite the fact that recent embarrassing honor code violations have occurred under Crowton's watch, resulting in a number of Cougar football players either being expelled or suspended, Crowton has placed unprecedented emphasis of honor code compliance. This is, however, the Internet age and little escapes public scrutiny anymore.

He implemented a system this year where new recruits live with regular BYU students to help the newcomers understand the environment and honor code system better. He also provides a daily reminder to all his players during the fall season.

Academics – Crowton has also instituted a more proactive academic advisement process to ensure his players are attending classes and earning passing grades. Consequently, the graduation ratio among football players has increased. This fall, he added morning meetings between players, coaches and advisers for those with GPA's of 2.5 or less to track their daily progress and follow up on school assignments.

Hiring competent assistants - Crowton substantially upgraded his staff with the post-2001 hiring of Bronco Mendenhall (defensive coordinator), Jeff Grimes (offensive line) and Todd Bradford (wide receivers).

LDS Missions – A much higher percentage of LDS athletes are serving Church missions under Crowton's watch, which is encouraged, but it also presents some significant challenges in ensuring he has a balanced depth chart of quality athletes filling all positions year-in and year-out. Crowton is the first Cougar head football coach who has also served a Church mission.

2003 vs. 2004 OVERVIEW:

* Notre Dame loses 9 starters and returns 15, including their quarterback. The Fighting Irish, 5-7 last season, defeated BYU last year by 19, using a devastating running attack and the Cougars were -3 in turnovers. Daniel Coats was injured in the game.

* Stanford loses 9 starters and returns 15. Though they were 4-7 last season, Stanford defeated BYU by 4 and the Cougars were -3 in turnovers. Rod Wilkerson was injured and true freshman quarterback John Beck got his first start after starter Matt Berry was sidelined with a broken hand the week before.

* USC loses 11 starters and returns 13, including quarterback Matt Leinert after a national championship 12-1 season. USC defeated BYU by 17 and the Cougars were -2 in turnovers. Despite that, BYU was within three points of the Trojans with less than four minutes to play. Starters Brandon Heaney and Kip Nielsen were sidelined by injury.

* Boise State loses 13 starters including their quarterback and return 11 after a 12-1 season and WAC championship. Boise defeated BYU by 38 points and the Cougars, again, were -3 in turnovers. True freshman David Nixon starts his second game in place of injured starter Levi Madarieta.

* Colorado State loses 13 starters including their quarterback and returns 13 after a 7-6 season. CSU defeated BYU by 45 points and the Cougars were -2 in turnovers. Backup quarterback starter John Beck is injured

* UNLV loses 10 starters including their quarterback and returns 14 after a 6-6 season. BYU defeated UNLV by 7 points despite being -1 in turnovers. Nixon starts his first game for injured Madarieta.

* Wyoming loses 11 starters including their quarterback and return 15 after a 4-8 season. Wyoming wins by 3 points. BYU and Wyoming had an even turnover game. This game marked Matt Berry's return from injury. Levi Madarieta was injured in this game.

* AFA loses 19 starters including their quarterback and returns 6 starters after a 7-5 season. AFA defeated BYU by 14 points, scoring their last 7 points with no time on the clock. BYU had another even turnover game. Chris Hale replaced an injured Rod Wilkerson. Jason Kukahiko was also injured along with Eddie Keele.

* San Diego State loses 11 starters and returns 17 starters, including their quarterback, after a 6-6 season. BYU defeated SDSU by 8 points. BYU also had an even turnover game. Quinn Christensen started in place of Keele and Hale starts for Kukahiko, both starters out with injuries.

* New Mexico loses 14 starters including their quarterback and return 12 after an 8-5 season. BYU defeated the Lobos by 3 points with a +1 turnover game. Matt Berry is injured and was never the same all season and Daniel Marquardt is injured.

* Utah loses 9 starters and returns 17, including their quarterback, after a 10-2 season. Utah defeated BYU by 3 points and the Cougars were -1 in turnovers.

Of BYU's eight losses, five of those teams do not have their starting quarterbacks back this season – Stanford, Boise, Colorado State, Wyoming, and Air Force.

Looking back over BYU's gridiron history in recent decades, we remember the great quarterbacks and wins. However, a closer examination reveals that BYU teams struggled with quarterbacks starting their first year with very few exceptions.

Steve Sarkisian ended his BYU career with a 21-5 record, but was 7-4 his first season. Ty Detmer threw 5 interceptions against Wyoming his freshmen year losing 14-24. Sean Covey was 8-5 and Steve Lindsley was 9-4.

When these quarterbacks took the field, with the exception of Detmer, they were juniors with upperclassmen protecting them on the offensive line.

Brett Engemann, Matt Berry and John Beck did not have that luxury the last two seasons. Last season the offensive line included: freshman tight ends - Daniel Coats and Phil Niu; freshman right guard - Jake Kuresa; freshman left guard - Ofa Mohetau, freshmen left tackle - Eddie Keele.

Gary Crowton is building a strong foundation for the BYU football program despite all the negative national publicity related to embarrassing honor code violations. He has recruited a good mix of JC and high school talent. Barring injury and assuming they live by the school's stringent honor code, these players should be exceptional when they "come of age" as juniors and seniors.

Utah's defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham, a BYU grad who has established a mini-defensive dynasty for the Utes, has stated that if Crowton is replaced, the next (BYU) coach will be walking into a sweet deal with the young talent Crowton has assembled.

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