Eddie Crowder from the archives

Eddie Crowder was hired as CU's football coach in January 1963. Two-and-a-half years later he added the mantle of athletic director to his duties. Before coming to Colorado, Crowder had quarterbacked both his high school team in Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Sooners to state and national championships.

Not only was Crowder a gifted player, coach and administrator, he's a gifted storyteller. In the following interview, conducted the week following CU's season-opening loss to Montana State in 2006, Crowder sat down with the Buffalo Sports News and shared stories and insights from the past, and his opinion on the present and future of the Buffaloes football program.

BSN: How did you end up at Oklahoma out of high school?
Eddie Crowder
: I was going into my two varsity years of high school. And Muskogee, Oklahoma, Central High School where I was, brought in a new coach named Paul Young. And this man had been at the University of Oklahoma. He was an Honorable-Mention All-American as a player and he'd been a Phi Beta Kappa in school. Then he played for the Green Bay Packers for a while.

He got into high school coaching and had been a very successful high school coach. My guess is he was probably 37 or 38 years old at that time. So he came there, and he was brilliant. He was a great leader. My junior year, I think we went 7 and 2 or something. It was a developmental year. Then my senior year, we won everything. We won the state championship.

With my having been a quarterback, it was a blessing to have somebody with the great football experience and knowledge and background and experience that he did. He nurtured our team, all of us, so well that we had this great success. And that attracted the University of Oklahoma. They offered two of us a scholarship.

I had an older brother who had gone there on scholarship. I was kind of inheriting an opportunity, too.

BSN: Did your older brother play football too?
Eddie Crowder
: He actually went there on a combined football-basketball scholarship. He was, and still is, a wonderful fellow. So he left a good impression. I'm sure that helped my opportunity.

BSN: Dan Hawkins in August mentioned you telling him stories about Vince Lombardi. Was your high school coach your connection to Lombardi?
Eddie Crowder
: No. As a matter of fact, after I finished my playing career at Oklahoma, I played a year of pro ball in Canada. Then I had to go on active duty in the military. I had an ROTC commission, so I had a two-year obligation. The first six months of that I was at Fort Hood, Texas, because they made me play quarterback on their post team.

Then I was given orders to go to West Point to coach quarterbacks. That was right out of the blue. So I was there a year, and Vince Lombardi had been the offensive coordinator at West Point shortly before I got there. Then he moved to the New York Giants as an offensive coordinator. So he came back to West Point on visits a few times and I had an opportunity to get to know him.

Then when I got into coaching out here, we really needed to learn a lot of things that college coaches were only evolving into in the pass game. I got hold of Coach Lombardi and asked him if we could come to Green Bay, a couple of my coaches and me, and spend a week there during their training period. He welcomed us with open arms. He was wonderful. So he became one of my mentors, in a sense. Some mentors are people you're around a lot for an extended period of time. Others, you get a week with them here, a day there. He became that sort of person to me.

BSN: At Oklahoma, what kind of offense did you run?
Eddie Crowder
: We played something called the Split T. It was an option-based offense. Option and attack, I should say because you played most of the time out of a fullback with a T backfield, so that you could go either way with the option. It was the innovative offense during that era. During that era, offenses were heavily oriented toward the run game rather than the pass game.

Within the running game, it was kind of a new method of approach because by conducting it based on an option attack, it gave the defense problems that they really hadn't dealt with very much. It was a forerunner of the wishbone.

BSN: I was reading in one of Fred Casotti's books that when you took the CU job, it was a difficult situation as far as factions between Dal Ward people, Bud Davis people and Sonny Grandelius people. Is that accurate?
Eddie Crowder
: Well, I know that was the perception. And I think media people would have more of a feeling that that perception was valid because they're observers. But when I got here — I really believe that it's fair and right to say that I had no perception of a faction whatsoever, for this reason: I think that people were so devoted to the success of the CU football program, they were eager for amelioration, so to speak, by a new personality that would bring to it no ties to any of those supposed or purported factions.

I didn't have any axe to grind. I was just scared to death. I was a 31-year-old guy who got the job only because with the trauma of an NCAA investigation that had gone on, they couldn't go hire a high-flying head coach. And then I did have the blessing and good fortune of a pedigree that was just a gift from God. Because I had played for this great coach in high school and we had won everything. I played for a brilliant coach in college (Bud Wilkinson) and we won everything.

You know, it's not a silver spoon, I had a gold spoon in my mouth. It far exceeded my actual abilities.

BSN: You're first game in 1963 was against defending national champion USC. What was that like preparing to play your first game as a head coach and it's against a team like that?
Eddie Crowder
: Frightening. You know, when you're young like that, if you've been enriched with the great involvements that my life had enjoyed and experienced – in other words, playing at Oklahoma on a national championship team, playing in high school on a state championship team, surrounded by great players and brilliant coaching — you're given a confidence that's not born of your own coaching so much as you've been there, done that. You feel you have. So I felt that we would be competitive with anybody.

It was a decimated team because when they had the NCAA investigation about 15 months before I got here, they took the eligibility away from a big number of players. I think it was about 40 players because they'd been getting illegal payments. If you're going to pay players, you're probably going to pay your really good ones. And if you take the eligibility away from the really good ones…

We had some very good players left, but it was thin. I recognized that it was going to take us two or three or four years of recruiting to bolster the numbers of real talented guys. But we had dedicated players and we had a great, dedicated, loyal fan core. The numbers were down because people who weren't really involved, a lot of them dropped away when we were going through the NCAA investigation and then a horrible season in '62.

As a matter of fact, we came here with the Oklahoma team when I was an assistant (in 1962) and we won 63 to nothing. It was just embarrassing for them. But it started raining the previous Sunday before the Saturday we were going to play Southern Cal. They had just won the national championship the year before. I said to our management of our facilities, ‘We better put a tarp down on that field.' ‘Oh, no, no. It never rains more than a day or two here,' they said.

So every day I said that, and every day they said that, and we never covered the field. Then you can't get out there and cut the grass because it was so wet.

John McKay, who was the coach at Southern Cal, I didn't talk to him before the game, but he made strong comments about how I had watered down the field and failed to cut the grass.

BSN: That might have played in your favor.
Eddie Crowder
: It no doubt did a little bit. But I had brought with me two other (coaches) from Oklahoma. And Rudy Feldman and Chet Franklin were the two, and both were outstanding coaches. Rudy was a superb defensive coach. He and I were the same age, and were both here as rookies in the world of college football. But he did a brilliant job of preparing our team defensively. We lost 14 to nothing, but this was a (USC) team that was going to average 35 points a game the rest of the season. It was satisfying in that regard.

BSN: You mentioned recruiting. How important was recruiting back then, and how important do you think it remains today?
Eddie Crowder
: On a scale of 100, back then it was 100. On a scale of 100 today, it's 100. You can't win by outcoaching people with inferior players. It can't be done. You might pull off an upset once and a while. But the objective for anybody competitive enough and ambitious enough to be a college football coach – you're interest is in winning all your games. Well, if you're going to win like that…if you look at Southern Cal vs. Texas for the national championship this last year, you get a pretty accurate picture. Those are probably the two most talented teams in the country. They've got the best players. That's who rises to the top.

It puts, then, a premium on recruiting that says if you're really going to be a highly successful team, then every year you've really got to get the highest quality guys. You need to get about half a dozen per year who are considered in these rating services 5 stars.

BSN: Do you remember the first time you saw the Anderson brothers play? Talk about recruiting them.
Eddie Crowder
: Going back one step prior to recruiting them: When I was being interviewed and preparing to come here, one of the things I did – I'm at Oklahoma and we were going to play in the Sugar Bowl. Coach Wilkinson asked me if I accepted the job at Colorado to stay with the (OU) team through the bowl game. Just for the continuity in coaching. I, of course, agreed to that.

I started getting on the phone and hiring assistant coaches. But I also got on the phone and I called a dozen of the top high school coaches in Colorado and I just asked them to tell me who are the best players. Well, Hale Irwin, right here in Boulder, Colorado, is who they said was the best player. So I called his parents and I made an appointment to be at their house January 3 rd of 1963. That was my first day on the job. I arrived on a plane January 3rd coming back from the bowl game, someone picked me up and I went to the Irwin's house.

Basically what I told the Irwins that night in their home…I didn't even know which was going to be my office (at CU). I had no authority, I had no assurances of anything other than I've got a job and I'm going to get paid about $14 or $15,000 a year. I told (the Irwins) that night that I'm authorizing myself to make an offer that I have no jurisdiction to offer. But I said, ‘You are offered a football and/or a golf scholarship. What that means is that being the great golfer you are, you might decide not to play football. And if you don't, you've still got a golf scholarship, even if I have to take it out of the football scholarships. Then if you decide to do both, wonderful. Or if you just play football, wonderful. I just want you to have the feeling of assurance that you've got a deal, whatever your decisions are.'

Obviously, he decided as events went along to do both. Going back to your question about how important is recruiting, I think it illustrates it's 100 percent. It's something I learned from Bud Wilkinson. I was there for seven years and about the last four, I was in charge of recruiting. I think that Bud put me in charge of that because having been from Oklahoma, it gave me a little bit more recognition as I went around the state and into Texas.

In any event, I learned from that, No. 1 you've got to identify the people who have greatness. Not just as a player. You've got to have it as an athlete, but also qualities of greatness as people, too. Hale Irwin and his parents obviously had that. That's why he was doing so well at everything. He was an academic all-American, and he was the best amateur golfer in the state at age 18.

I knew when I went to their house the first night that first impressions were the most important. So I knew I was going to make the right impression by saying, ‘You've got whatever you need.'

That then led to the Andersons. Those guys were so close that I'm sure that Hale, without even making conscious gestures to recruit them, that became part of the movement here. Again, when I arrived here, everybody — high school coaches, alum, sportswriters, people in general, people within the university — they wanted to see happy success here. I think that became a recruiting benefit in helping us first get Hale Irwin, and then Dick and Bobby Anderson here.

BSN: When did you take on the athletic director job, too?
Eddie Crowder
: When I arrived, Dean Harry Carlson was the athletic director. He had been for like 30 years or so. He was a wonderful man, and he was a mentor to me. He was going to remain as athletic director for two years, from the time I arrived here, and did. As that time passed, the University had brought Dr. Joe Smiley as president, and a man named Glen Barnett. They came here from the University of Texas at Austin. Darrel Royal was there head football coach and their athletic director. So they had had that experience.

We had a very compatible relationship because they came here with a history of experience with that format. They suggested to me after we had worked together for two years that they would like me to consider the format of me being both. I was flattered and honored and felt there were potentials in that that could be very good, not only for football and me, but for the athletic department as a whole. Because as the football coach you're the most recognizable name in the athletic department. It gave me more entrée in fundraising and those things.

I had to have supportive administrative help, though. So I asked him if I could bring in one person to be kind of what we'd now call the associate athletic director. Jack Mills had been at the University of Oklahoma staff when I was there. First he got an accounting degree, then he got a law degree. Then he went on active duty in the Army and got out about the time I was becoming the athletic director. So I asked him to come. He said, ‘I'd love to do it for two years, then I want to get into the practice of law and sports business.'

So he helped us through those two years. He's a man of just extraordinary quality.

BSN: Do you remember your operating budget that first year you took over as athletic director?
Eddie Crowder
: I don't really. But it couldn't have been more than $1 million. Of course, $1 million then might be like $15 million now. The one thing I do remember, it had $100,000 deficit in it because they were going through this horrible trauma of the NCAA investigation. And that's another reason I got the job, I'm sure. They couldn't afford to hire two people. I was making maybe $18,000 (as football coach) by the time they made me athletic director. I think they bumped me to $20,000 to do both.

BSN: Jumping ahead several years – I remember watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell announced that you had hired Chuck Fairbanks. How did that come about?
Eddie Crowder
: It came about by misfortune as it turned out. (laughs). Nobody intended it to be, of course. Interestingly enough, Jimmy Johnson — who ended up being the highly successful coach of the Miami Hurricanes and others — was a coach at Oklahoma State. Either he contacted me and asked to be considered for the (CU) job or an intermediary did.

Well, he had been an assistant coach to Chuck Fairbanks at Oklahoma when Chuck was the head coach there. So I thought the thing to do was to call Chuck because I knew him well. So Fairbanks was at New England, and they were moving toward the playoffs. I called Fairbanks and said Jimmy Johnson had been recommended, and what did he think. Well, he said, ‘What about me?'

I was bewildered to think, ‘Wait a minute. This guy is going into the playoffs as a coach in the NFL, and he's talking about coming back to just a normal college program?' So I told him, ‘I just can't quite envision that.' I had a wariness about it. I told him, ‘Let's talk about it again.' I was in Kansas City at the Big Eight Conference meetings. So I came back here and I discussed it with some of the people here, and the reaction was, ‘It's certainly improbable, but this guy has an excellent track record.' He won a national championship at Oklahoma.

We kept communicating and he kept insisting (he wanted the CU job). I later learned that the reason that he was feeling disenfranchised with the New England Patriots was because he had been hired by a man who owned the team named Billy Sullivan. Billy Sullivan had two adult sons who were growing into taking over the management of that franchise. Billy Sullivan and Chuck had a formal contract, but he had given Chuck some other assurances about Chuck's autonomy to run the program, both drafting personnel and the coaching of the team. And he had given him some other assurances such as he could be released from his contract with two weeks notice at any time.

Well, the two sons started taking over, and they negated all of that. They had taken away from Fairbanks — at least, this is the impression that I got from Chuck — the authority to make final decisions on drafting, and that sort of thing. So he could just see that his future there was not going to give him the kind of autonomy that he wanted. So he was ready to look elsewhere.

So as we went through the next couple of months, it just played out that he had the gumption to go to Billy Sullivan and say, ‘I'm leaving.' Then it ended up in all these legal hassles because Billy Sullivan's sons stepped in and said, ‘You can't do that. You don't have anything in writing that says you can leave in two weeks.' He'd had verbal assurance from the father. But the father was not now going to take Fairbanks' side of it because here was a guy who had gotten them in the playoffs who was now going to walk away.

It just became a very unpleasant and unfortunate scenario that then led us into three years of struggle with his presence here. There was just so much trauma associated with it that while he brought a very good staff and they did a good job of recruiting, they could never rebuild the strength of the program. Bill Mallory had been the coach before. Bill had a lot of strengths that were very good, but his recruiting was one of the acceptance of the idea that it's going to be very difficult competitively to get the 5-star players, so he took 3's, 2's and 1's.

And it goes back to your question: How important is recruiting? It's 100 percent. That wasn't quite the case with Mallory, so he never got quite the talent to win on an ongoing fashion here.

BSN: Tell me about hiring Coach McCartney. How did that come about?
Eddie Crowder
: Well, God did that. The reason I say that, I've always been of great faith and always knew that I needed a lot of help. Fairbanks gave me notice on the first of June that he was leaving to go coach the New Jersey Generals (in the USFL). Spring practice was over, your recruiting was completed. So the new coach is going to come here and he's not going to have the opportunity to recruit, he's not going to know any of the recruits or the current players.

We knew we needed to do it post haste, and we knew we were not going to be able to hire a head coach from a well-established program. I was away from my office the first day that the search was on – and the search was on the minute the press got the information that Fairbanks is leaving. I came back to my office and there were probably 100 of those little telephone notes of incoming calls. I took this stack of notes and went into my office. So many of them were just from a high school coach in a small Texas town or something, saying, ‘Give me a chance.' So those you put in one stack. I'm just looking for someone who's coming from some pedigree where you think here's somebody who could really do this.

A man had called from Detroit, and he was a great fan of the University of Michigan, a graduate of Michigan, a very successful businessman, a very close friend of Bo Schembechler's and Bill McCartney's. Bill was what would now be titled assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.

He gave a little biographical sketch of Bill, and among the things I remember he said, as a high school coach before he went to Michigan, he was head coach of basketball and football and he won the state championship of both. I was looking for a guy who had a proven history of victory, and a guy who was just driven. The Lord tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Just read it again.'

So I picked up the phone and called Bo Schembechler. I had gotten to know Bo over the years. And I told him of all this, and I said, first, ‘I don't want to tamper with your staff. I realize you've got a season that's going to start in about 10 weeks also.' And he said, ‘I would endorse your offering him the job because he's worthy of it.' He said, ‘He deserves it. He's been a loyalist to me and our program. He's done a brilliant job.'

I told him my criteria – I wanted a guy who is of impeccable character. Not going to get into any problems with the NCAA, not going to have problems in the community. But he had to be just a driven, competitive person. And he had to be an immensely effective recruiter. I had to know that he's a man of victory. He said, ‘You just described McCartney. Hire him.'

So, 10 days later we hired him.

BSN: You've mentioned the media a couple of times. What was your relationship like with the press as a football coach, and how significant is that in this day and age?
Eddie Crowder
: I think that, like recruiting, is unchanged. Again, I was so fortunate to be mentored and tutored by Bud Wilkinson. Not just in the things he said, but in the way he conducted so many of these kinds of things. Example: When a football game was played in Norman, why he would invite some of us on the staff to come by after the game. He'd make chili and have refreshments. You'd go there and the sports editor of the Oklahoma City paper would be there, the Norman Transcript, the beat writers. He'd have a dozen or so writers and their wives. And then he had some staff, and some people who were followers of the team, donors, that sort of thing.

It was a relationship that was born of reaching out to one another. So I came here without having given that a lot of thought. But your behavior in those kind of ways is so founded upon what you've observed and participated in, particularly in those formative years. When I got here, we just kind of started doing the same thing. I would say that it was kind of a love affair. The senior writers from the Boulder Camera and The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News all became great friends. And then younger writers as they came along, too. I always felt it was kind of a partnership in the sense that they had a job to do and we had a job to do. These two relied upon each other to a great degree. Without trying to either promote them or do a PR job, it was just a very natural thing to be understanding of their needs and in turn they were still objective. If we did something dumb or foolish, why they'd say so. It didn't bother me because the Good Lord had already told me.

BSN: Jumping ahead again, what are your thoughts about the direction of the athletic department now?
Eddie Crowder
: I'd like to send you an email of a little epistle that I sent to (CU president) Hank Brown, to (Chancellor) Bud Peterson, (Athletic Director) Mike Bohn and Coach Hawkins after the (loss to Montana State). (See Crowder's e-mail, Page 12). When you have the opportunity to work within a university for 20 years – I believe we had seven presidents within my 20 years — you interact with every one of them. You have a new board of regents every several years. You're relating to those people all the time because if you're the coach and the athletic director, there are so many ways in which you're responsible to communicate with them. So you get a real perspective.

And then since I've been retired from the university, I've had so much occasion to be back over here and be part of it. It's my belief that while we've had excellent people in all of the different leadership positions, that with President Brown, Chancellor Peterson, Mike Bohn as athletic director and Dan Hawkins as the coach, this is the most pedigreed, thoroughbred, qualified collection of leaders that's ever been put together here in my time. Forty-three years. I believe that with all my heart. And I believe it because not only have I gotten to know each of them personally, but I'm getting so much feedback. I have gotten enough feedback that we have got real, solid, thoroughbred leaders up here.

When you have that, good things are going to happen. They are going to make decisions and take actions that are going to correct things if they're not going well, redirect them, or create whole new concepts. That's a given.

BSN: What has it meant to you personally that Dan Hawkins immediately upon his hiring reached out to you and sought your counsel?
Eddie Crowder
: Naturally, it's a very honoring feeling to be invited back on the premises; welcomed with open arms. But I believe that all of us as we live our lives identify with certain traits and characteristics. In leadership, people can talk about persona or they can talk about stature or they can talk about communication strengths. But I believe a characteristic that has the greatest mystique to it is humility.

Dan Hawkins has been a head coach for 10 years in college. He won the championship at his conference seven times. He had won 80 percent of his games. I'm a strong believer in lifetime batting average. You want to see how somebody's going to function tomorrow – what'd they do today, and how'd they do yesterday? This man's lifetime batting average is as good as anybody coaching college football in the United States. I think the reaction that he demonstrated since the moment the (Montana State) game ended fully illustrates

I talked to a player, Thaddaeus Washington. I got him aside and I said, ‘Thad, I'm just curious from a player's point of view whether my impressions are correct that Coach Hawkins is handling this as well as he can.' And he said, ‘No question.'

So I think that what's so important when you're taking over a program that's gone through the traumas that this program has …If you've been wounded, why then the healing process has got to be enriched by a good hospital-like environment. And it's called ‘Hawk Love' in this case.

I think that we're not on the threshold of greatness because it's going to take some ongoing recruiting successes to add to the talent we've got here. We've got some good players. Every player out here is a good player. They wouldn't get here if they weren't. These are gifted people. But then you look at Southern Cal playing Texas (for the 2005 national championship) and they've got about a dozen super-gifted people on each team.

But to go back to the point at hand, I believe the most important thing right now for us as the public is to as much as possible while still being fair-minded and objective be supportive and positive. Obviously a lot of people are going to feel right now that the sky is falling.

It's not falling; it's still up there.

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