The following is just a small portion of an interview that will run in the November issue of the Buffalo Sports News Magazine. The interview was conducted four days following the Buffs’ season-opening loss to Montana State.
BSN: How important was recruiting back then (in 1963), 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 out-coaching 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-thousand 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: Jumping ahead, what are your thoughts about the direction of the athletic department now?
Eddie Crowder: 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.