Maryland's Crowton eager to show off his offense

Offensive coordinator moving past his time at LSU, looking forward to running things his way with Terps

August 28, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — Gary Crowton extends his right hand to display the damage. The wrist had to be stabilized with a plate and 11 screws after two players careened into him as he coached at an LSU practice several years ago. He also suffered a concussion and lost a few teeth. "Didn't miss a practice," he says.

At 54, Maryland's new offensive coordinator carries multiple reminders — physical and emotional — of being a football lifer.

He won a national championship as LSU's offensive coordinator, popularized a version of the wide-receiver screen as coordinator of the Chicago Bears, and was instrumental in bringing longtime friend Chip Kelly to Oregon, last season's national title runner-up. But he also endured Internet taunts from LSU fans who thought the team's offense was boring, and weathered having to step down as coach of a BYU program he had followed as a boy growing up in Provo, Utah.

After more than 35 years of playing and coaching, it's evident that Crowton is a survivor.

Less clear is where all his varied experiences and travels have left him philosophically. In a year of turnover unlike any in Maryland's program in a decade, Terps fans are looking for clues about the team's veiled-in-secrecy offense. They are eager to learn what offensive principles Crowton still holds dear.

The answer is not what fans might think by looking at recent history.

In his last two years at LSU, Crowton's Tigers averaged 24.8 and 29.7 points, respectively, and their passing offense ranked 97th and 107th in the nation. LSU fans flocked to message boards to say that the offense had regressed, that the team was too conservative, and that it was not making enough use of its blue-chip receivers. LSU had averaged 38.6 points under Crowton and head coach Les Miles in the national championship season of 2007.

The criticism irritated Crowton's friends in the coaching world who believe he was made a scapegoat.

"Gary was there when they won a national championship," said Brown coach Phil Estes, who — like Crowton — is a former New Hampshire assistant. "He didn't become a bad coach overnight. He's very loyal. He probably ate a lot of stuff at LSU that he probably didn't have to."

In a 50-minute interview, Crowton said bluntly that "No, it wasn't my offense" at LSU and that it would be unfair to make assessments based soley on those four years.

"Were there parts of that offense that were mine? Yeah. The philosophy that Coach Miles had was to be good on defense, be good on special teams and win it in the fourth quarter," Crowton said. "We won a lot of games in the fourth quarter. We beat Auburn twice in the fourth quarter. What it did is it shortened the game. We didn't have a lot of offensive plays. When you look statistically, it wasn't great, but that wasn't our goal. Our goal was to win games. We won 40 in four years."

Crowton, a former Colorado State quarterback and defensive back, said his "inner nature" is to be "exciting and open and fast-paced." He likes up-tempo offenses, although Maryland's isn't likely to be as fast as Kelly's at Oregon. Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien "is not the same quarterback as [Oregon's Darron] Thomas. There are different styles of quarterbacks and we have to play to the strengths of our quarterbacks," Crowton said.

Crowton said Maryland's offense must be suited to the particular talents of its players — and Maryland has two solid, experienced running backs in senior Davin Meggett (720 yards last season) and sophomore D.J. Adams (11 rushing touchdowns). Coach Randy Edsall, in his first year at Maryland after a dozen seasons at Connecticut, said he intends to make Meggett a "workhorse" but that the offense will have multiple looks.

Crowton "can adapt to the personnel he has been handed," said Oregon's Kelly. "At BYU, Gary was running the heck out of the ball."

Kelly, whose Ducks lost to Auburn in last season's BCS national championship game, said he landed at Oregon largely because of Crowton.

Kelly was New Hampshire's offensive coordinator — Crowton's old job — and the two were friends. As Oregon's coordinator, Crowton — who ran a spread offense — invited Kelly to come visit and introduced him to the Oregon staff in 2006. When Crowton departed for LSU before the 2007 season, he recommended Kelly as his replacement.

"I thought somebody was prank calling when [then-Ducks coach] Mike Bellotti called about the job," Kelly said. "I thought it was one of my friends." Kelly took the job, and then succeeded Bellotti in 2009. He and Crowton remain close.

Married with seven children, Crowton has a quiet intensity. Driving to scout a high-school game as Lousiana Tech's coach in the late 1990s, he was so focused on devising game plans that he drove 90 miles out of his way before he realized where he was.

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