When Eddie Crowder passed away last week, most of Colorado paid little attention just another coach from a bygone era, and oh, wasn't he also the University of Colorado's athletic director for a while?
It was sad, how the state and many media all but ignored the man who played as much of a role as anyone in shaping CU's sports history over the past generation. And yes, he was Colorado's AD from 1965 to 1984.
Some of Crowder's achievements:
He brought CU football into national prominence as head coach from 1963-73, standing up to Big Eight powers Oklahoma and Nebraska, and sending many players on to NFL careers (Cliff Branch, Dave Logan, Bobby Anderson, J.V. Cain, Dick Anderson and Colorado Springs' Cullen Bryant, among others).
As athletic director, he led the effort to build the Coors Events Center, giving Colorado's indoor sports a new home starting in 1979, and developed CU's fundraising effort and fan-based organizations.
He supervised the rise of CU women's sports, especially basketball with the hiring of longtime head coach Ceal Barry.
He made the decision that led to Colorado football's zenith, luring Bill McCartney from Michigan's staff and supporting him through some lean early years.
Even in retirement, Crowder had continued as a willing mentor for the Buffaloes' coaches and administrators, including current head coach Dan Hawkins and athletic director Mike Bohn.
All of that looks impressive on paper. But Eddie Crowder, who lived to be 77 before succumbing to leukemia, was even better in person to the literally thousands of people (including me) who counted him as a friend.
Our relationship began soon after my arrival here in 1977. By that October, I had made an enemy of then-football coach Bill Mallory for calling the Buffs overrated. They crashed from 5-0 and high in the national rankings to 7-3-1 and no bowl game, and Crowder, as athletic director, admitted privately several times that the "overrated" bit was right.
He also was incensed, and apologized personally, after that year's final game when Mallory "allowed" his seniors, led by All-America center Leon White (who later became Vader of pro wrestling fame), to confront writers in a meeting room, locking the door, physically intimidating us and refusing to let us talk to coaches even though CU had beaten Kansas State, 23-0.
A year later, after a 6-5 season, Crowder fired Mallory, quietly admitting he "made a mistake" despite the fact that big donors had pushed hard for that hire. But next came an even bigger mistake, when Crowder lured former Oklahoma coach Chuck Fairbanks from the NFL (New England) to replace Mallory. That was a disaster, which would have been lethal to most ADs, but Crowder somehow survived and came out of it with McCartney.
It should tell you something that McCartney spoke at Crowder's memorial service, as did Springs businessman Jerry Rutledge, also a longtime CU regent. Once you were part of Crowder's circle, the membership was permanent. That also went for others such as Mike Moran, who worked as CU's sports information director from 1968-78, before putting in nearly 25 years with the U.S. Olympic Committee and landing more recently with the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.
"Eddie was truly one of a kind," Moran said last week, calling Crowder "an amazing combination of intellect and coaching skill."
He was a master at telling old stories, but the beauty of it all was that Crowder never portrayed himself as being the central figure responsible for CU's grandest moments, such as the 1990 football national championship. He was fine with simply being a fixture of Colorado athletics.
And his life was much more than just CU. In later years, whether eating lunch in Boulder or bumping into each other at some function, we would talk at length about the 1996 murder of JonBent Ramsey, a subject that fascinated Crowder. Yes, he had his theories of what really did happen that Christmas Eve, but those are best to remain private because, as Crowder would smile and say, "I've been wrong before."
Perhaps, but he also was right, many times. And it's hard now to imagine the University of Colorado without him.
Sports ShotReminder Tickets available ($25-$30) for the college ice hockey Face-Off Luncheon, noon, Wednesday, Oct. 1 at Penrose House Garden Pavilion. Call Brian Oehler, 634-7333 ext. 1003.
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