New Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Gary Crowton is an unconventional hire, as he hasn't spent any time in the CFL previously. He does have plenty of experience at high levels of football, including numerous stints at big NCAA schools such as LSU (where he helped win the 2007-08 national title), Oregon and BYU and a year as the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator. However, many of those who have watched him closely in those positions haven't been particularly impressed, and his stock seems to be at a particular low right now. I spoke with Carter Bryant, the sports director at LSU's 91.1 KLSU radio station, and he said Crowton's offence frequently didn't accomplish much for the Tigers, especially in the past few years.
"Crowton was last in the SEC in offense in 2009 and then 11th (second to last at the time) in 2010," Bryant said. "His main problem was with the quarterback position, which has been a disaster since the Ryan Perrilloux saga was ended in 2008. But also a lack of identity hurt him as well."
One common defence for college coordinators is that they're only working with the talent they're given, and recruiting often isn't fully under their control. Bryant said talent was never the key issue at LSU, though.
"LSU has had a vast variety of talent at offensive positions, but almost too much," he said. "In 2009, it was a disaster. Jarrett Lee, who is famously known for throwing "pick-6's," was often confused. The play book was oversimplified and defenses anticipated where Lee was going with the football by not only his eyes, but also by play design."
The Tigers have alternated between Lee and Jordan Jefferson much of the time since then, and they've found some success. Bryant said Crowton's offence did look better in 2010 with Jefferson under centre.
"With regards to Crowton in his last season of coaching at LSU, he ended strongly with Jefferson at quarterback," Bryant said. "In Crowton's swansong, he called his most masterful game has an offensive coordinator versus Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. He created matchup advantages for receiver Terrence Toliver, who had a career day with three touchdowns."
Still, Crowton didn't leave a favourable overall impression on Bryant despite his strong finish.
"Crowton made some flat-out terrible calls at LSU," Bryant said. "He often ran the option to the point fans booed him even if the play went for positive yardage. There was never much imagination outside of the occasional trick play ran by the Tigers."
Bryant said that impression was shared by many Tigers' fans.
"The fans hated Crowton after 2009 and were ready to give him the boot in the middle of 2010," he said. "Fans in Baton Rouge seemed to love to berate him. When anything bad happened on the football field, LSU fans would say 'We got Crowton'd.'"
It wasn't just those outside the program who weren't fans of Crowton, though. Bryant said receiver Russell Shepard was thrilled to hear Crowton had left for Maryland in the 2010 offseason.
"Probably the most telling sign of the players' relief of Crowton being gone when I spoke with LSU receiver Russell Shepard last spring before this season," Bryant said. "I asked him what he thought of new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, who replaced Crowton at offensive coordinator, (at the time), and the progress of the offense in the offseason, and he said, 'Parallel to where we were last year, we are probably a couple of months ahead of where we were.'"
Bryant said those comments carry plenty of significance.
"That says a lot coming from Shepard, a guy who has a pretty solid understanding of the game," he said. "The offense was 'months ahead' with a new offensive coordinator instead of a guy who has been there for years. The numbers didn't lie either. Outside of Alabama, LSU beat all their opponents by at least 13 points per game. The offense was more fluid. Jefferson and Lee were both assets to the offense instead of just a means of running it."
There are numbers to back this up, as the LSU offence evolved quite dramatically after Crowton left. They went from scoring 386 points (29.7 points per game) in 2010 to 500 (35.7 per game in 2011, and improved in both rushing (2836 yards versus 2414, 4.8 yards per carry versus 4.5) and passing (2135 total yards, 7.7 per attempt in 2011 to 2023, 6.7 per attempt in 2010). That adds up to 4971 yards of total offense, 57th nationally in Division I FBS and much better than the 4461 yards and 81st-nationally ranking they put up in Crowton's last year in 2010. Meanwhile, Crowton's new team, Maryland, dropped slightly from 75th to 77th in overall yardage, and they also fell from 9-4 to 2-10.
Of course, not all of that's on Crowton, as LSU also improved in areas outside of his control (defence, special teams) and Maryland regressed in similar areas. Still, his stock certainly isn't high at the moment. Crowton has put up impressive numbers at times, so this could still work out well. If it doesn't, though, Winnipeg fans may soon add "We got Crowton'd" to their vocabulary.