Longtime Colorado coach, administrator Crowder dies at 77

BOULDER, Colo. -- Eddie Crowder, who spent nearly half of a century at the University of Colorado as a football coach, athletic director and mentor to generations of players, coaches and administrators, died Tuesday night from complications of leukemia, the school said. He was 77.

Crowder, who played quarterback at the University of Oklahoma under Bud Wilkinson, compiled a record of 67-49-2 in 11 seasons as Colorado's coach from 1963 to 1973. He also served as athletic director starting in 1965, a role he continued for 11 seasons after stepping down as coach.

He remained an active supporter of Buffaloes sports until his death.

Athletic director Mike Bohn said CU lost "a tremendous leader, coach, mentor and friend."

"He always seemed to be there at the right time and the right place with the right message whether it was for [current football coach] Dan Hawkins or myself," Bohn told The Associated Press. "He was the foundation of our program. It's a tough day for us all."

Crowder died with his family by his side at Exampla Health Center in Lafayette after checking into the hospital Monday with respiratory problems, the university said.

Funeral plans were pending and the school was working on recognition programs for Crowder at the team's next home game, Sept. 18 against West Virginia.

A memorial is planned on campus this weekend.

"Coach Crowder has been a real blessing in my life," Hawkins said. "In such a short time he became a great mentor to me. Coach was a giver of his time, his wisdom, insight, and love. He had such a fondness for CU and Colorado football, particularly all of his former players.

"I will miss his gentle manner and the way he gracefully slid in and out of my daily existence. Eddie Crowder is truly one of the most special people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. We will all miss him daily, but he will be there with us each time we run out behind [the buffalo mascot] Ralphie onto Folsom Field."

CU chancellor Bud Peterson, a former Kansas State receiver who played against the Buffaloes in Crowder's last game as coach at Colorado, said Crowder "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."

Crowder turned around a moribund Buffaloes program, compiling a 63-33-2 record after two years of rebuilding. One of his biggest wins came in 1970, when the Buffs ended Penn State's 31-game unbeaten streak. His best season came in 1971, when the Buffaloes went 10-2 and finished third in the national polls behind fellow Big Eight conference members Nebraska and Oklahoma.

"College football has lost one of the great ones," former broadcaster Keith Jackson said. "I had a lot of fun with Eddie, whether it was talking football or life. And he knew both well."

In an era known for dictatorial coaches stomping up and down the sideline, Crowder was the exception, hardly ever raising his voice.

"Eddie got a lot done with a very even temper," Jackson said. "He always gave me the feeling that if you don't go out and give your best, you're selling out. If the kids didn't go out and play their hardest, they would have offended him. That was the way he controlled his team. He wasn't a shouter, a yeller or a screamer."

Several members of his coaching staff went on to have successful head coaching careers themselves, including Jim Mora, Don James and Les Steckel.

During his 20-year stint as AD, Crowder hired coaches Bill McCartney (football), Ceal Barry (women's basketball) and Mark Simpson (golf).

"I was an assistant coach that nobody ever heard of," said McCartney, who coached at Colorado from 1982 to 1994, winning a national title in 1990. "Eddie Crowder saw something in me and gave me a chance. When things didn't work out right away, he stuck with me. I'll always have a debt of gratitude and a special place in my heart for him."

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, Colorado's coach from 1994 to 1998, called Crowder "a tremendous influence."

"Eddie and I spent a lot of time talking about football, coaching, friendship and life," Neuheisel said. "His wisdom was unmistakable."

Born Aug. 26, 1931, in Arkansas City, Kan., Crowder was raised in Muskogee, Okla., where he won a state high school championship in 1949. He was a backup quarterback on Oklahoma's first national championship team in 1950 and guided the Sooners to a 16-3-1 mark as a starter in 1951-52.

After a senior season in which he earned All-America honors, Crowder was drafted by the New York Giants in 1953 but declined to play because of a nerve problem in his throwing arm.

He served in the Army Corps of Engineers, playing quarterback on the Fort Hood team in '53 and serving as a backfield coach in '54 before returning to Oklahoma and earning his bachelor's degree in 1955.

He served a year as an assistant football coach at Army and seven seasons under Wilkinson at Oklahoma. Colorado athletic director Harry Carlson hired him to coach the Buffaloes in 1963, when Crowder was 31.

Crowder is survived by his wife, Kate, two children, two stepchildren and three grandchildren.