Friends, Colleagues Remember CU Legend Eddie Crowder
October 23, 2008
Friends, colleagues remember CU legend Eddie Crowder
Gentle field general led CU's march to respectability
By B.G. Brooks, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)
Published September 10, 2008 at 9:17 a.m.
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Photo by The Rocky/2008
Eddie Crowder was one of the winningest football coaches in CU history and also served as athletic director.
In memoriam* In lieu of flowers, the family has established an Eddie Crowder Football Scholarship Fund. Those interested in contributing memorial gifts can make checks payable to the CU Foundation (put Crowder Football Scholarship in the memo field) and mail it to: The Buff Club, 369 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309-0369.
Crowder file* Born: Aug. 26, 1931, in Arkansas City, Kan.
* High school: Central High School, Muskogee, Okla.
* College career: Quarterback and safety at Oklahoma. . . . Member of Sooners' 1950 national championship team. . . . Led Oklahoma to Big Seven Conference titles in 1951 and 1952. . . . Named to the All-American team in 1952.
* Coaching career: Assistant at Army in 1955. . . . Assistant at Oklahoma from 1956 to 1962. . . . Became CU coach in 1963, one year after the school was hit by NCAA sanctions. . . . Career record of 67-49-2 in 11 seasons (1963 to 1973) at CU (39-37-1 in Big Eight Conference). . . . Guided Buffaloes to five bowl games, two more than the school had overall before his arrival. . . . The 1971 team went 10-2, the first 10-win season in school history. The team also finished No. 3 nationally, its highest ranking at the time.
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"You think, 'He's working out at 7 o'clock in the morning. Wow, this guy's going to live forever,' " the University of Colorado senior defensive tackle recalled Wednesday. "Unfortunately, God had other plans."
Fortunately for Hypolite and countless others, they knew him before those plans came to pass.
Crowder, the architect of CU football's national prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, died late Tuesday at Exampla Health Center in Lafayette of complications from leukemia. He was 77.
Crowder, who had survived a bout earlier this decade with non- Hodgkin's lymphoma, is survived by his wife, Kate; son, Mike; daughter, Carol Jean; two stepchildren, David Roman and Rebecca Roman; and three grandchildren, Steph- anie D'Angelo, Julia D'Angelo and Trevor James.
Kate Crowder called her husband "a blessing . . . to all of us. The pain of my loss is overcome with the joy of having had 20 fabulous years with a man who adored me and whom I adored even more."
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday in the east side club rooms of Folsom Field. It is open to the public and parking will be free around the stadium.
"We have lost a tremendous leader, coach, mentor and friend," CU athletic director Mike Bohn said. "His indelible imprint on CU will always be a cornerstone of the athletic program."
Chancellor Bud Peterson, a former Kansas State receiver who played against the Buffaloes in Crowder's final game as coach, called him "a legend in the field of intercollegiate athletics nationally and a cherished member of the CU-Boulder community for five decades.
"Both prior to and after my arrival as chancellor, he helped me greatly in understanding the Colorado sports landscape. I will miss his sage advice, his enthusiasm and his love of all things CU, as will our entire community."
Hypolite was introduced to Crowder by former CU coach Gary Barnett.
"When you're a freshman, you know nothing about (CU) football and the history," Hypolite said. "Then you find out (Crowder) is kind of the architect of all this and go, 'Wow.'
"It was really sad hearing the news. He was a great man. Even in the short time I knew him, he talked a lot about being focused and taking care of business. . . . (CU) has lost a great ambassador."
21 years of service
Crowder worked at CU for 21 years as either football coach, athletic director or both. He celebrated his 77th birthday Aug. 26 and was semiretired and living in Boulder since leaving CU in 1984. His business ventures included owning a popular restaurant in Boulder, Eddie's Mexican Cafe, in the 1980s; working briefly as the sales and marketing director of The International; and international marketing with QuixStar/Amway.
But for most of CU's coaches, past and present, the man many former staffers lovingly called "chief" was a mentor who was never more than a phone call away.
Current Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins called Crowder "a great mentor . . . he was very genuine. He was great about coming around when you asked him, and he was great about coming around when I didn't ask him - but really needed him.
"He was there a lot in 2006 (when Hawkins debuted with a 2-10 season). You get a lot of calls when you win, not many when you lose. . . . I'll miss his gentle manner, the way he gracefully slid in and out of my daily existence. (He) is truly one of the most special people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing."
Crowder was a head coach at only one school. And on Jan. 2, 1963, that school, Colorado, took what was viewed by some as a gamble by hiring a 31-year-old as its 17th coach at a time the program was reeling under NCAA penalties handed down the previous year.
But Crowder, who signed a four-year contract that initially paid him $15,000 annually, had a resume that was difficult to overlook. He had coached under Red Blaik at Army in 1955 before returning to his alma mater, Oklahoma, to work under its legendary coach, Bud Wilkinson, for seven seasons.
To Crowder, Wilkinson was the enduring blueprint for all college coaches, and he often spoke of the impact Wilkinson had on his life in and out of football.
After taking a two-year break from his schooling to serve in the Army Corps of Engineers and play quarterback in 1953 on the Fort Hood (Texas) team and coach the 1954 team's backfield, Crowder received a geology degree from Oklahoma in 1955.
CU was familiar with Crowder, and vice versa. In 1951, when the Sooners rolled over the Buffaloes 55-14, Crowder - at the time a renowned junior option quarterback on his way to becoming an All-American - showed his versatility by passing for 189 yards and four touchdowns, three in the first quarter. It was CU's only conference loss that season.
Crowder enrolled at Oklahoma in 1949 and was a reserve quarterback on Wilkinson's 1950 national championship team. But Crowder's time was coming. Under his direction, Oklahoma finished 8-2 in 1951 and 8-1-1 in 1952. He was an All-Big Seven Conference selection and an All-American as a senior.
Slow start, then success
Crowder, born in Arkansas City, Ark., but reared in Muskogee, Okla., had an undeniable soft spot for Oklahoma, but in Boulder, it seldom showed. In his 11 seasons as Buffs coach, his teams beat the Sooners four times, including 20-14 in 1972, when Oklahoma was ranked No. 2.
His first two CU teams finished 2-8, but the next nine went 63-33-2, won three bowl games and became regular members in the national polls. Crowder worked as coach and athletic director from 1965 to 1973, and when he left coaching in 1974 to devote all his time to the athletic director's job - he held the position until 1984 - his CU coaching record (67-49-2) was second in victories only to Fred Folsom's 77 in 15 seasons.
CU's banner season under Crowder was 1971, when the Buffs recorded the school's first 10-win season and, at the time, its highest national ranking (No. 3). After beating Houston in the Bluebonnet Bowl, CU finished 10-2.
Crowder's coaching tenure produced nine All-Americans, 33 All-Big Eight Conference selections, 37 NFL draft choices, five academic All-Americans and numerous players who participated in postseason all-star games.
During his tenure as athletic director, CU expanded Folsom Field three times and built the Coors Events/Conference Center. But Crowder's legacy is more about people than venues.
He hired three of the most successful coaches in CU history - Bill McCartney (football), Ceal Barry (basketball) and the late Mark Simpson (golf). McCartney, who directed CU's run to the 1990 co-national championship and retired in 1994 with a school-best 153 wins, was appreciative of the opportunity Crowder gave him.
"I was an assistant coach that nobody ever heard of," McCartney said. "Eddie Crowder saw in me something and gave me a chance. When things didn't work out right away (McCartney's first three teams went 7-25-2), (he) stuck with me."
In 1990, Crowder was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and four years ago, into CU's Athletic Hall of Fame.
In 2007, the Football Writers Association of America awarded him its annual Citation of Honor. The list of previous honorees includes Frank Broyles (Arkansas), Bear Bryant (Alabama), Duffy Daugherty (Michigan State), Dan Devine (Missouri), Bob Devaney (Nebraska) and Darrell Royal (Texas).
Crowder fit seamlessly and naturally on the college game's list of coaching legends, but befitting his manner, he accepted the award with grace and humility.
"This is a surprise," he said at the time. "No one has ever said that I was a man without words, so let me just say that I appreciate this honor very much."
No more, though, than college football and a community appreciated him. In fact, it isn't even close.