"Crowton is very different than anyone else; much different than the other head coaches. When he sits down to talk to you, he talks to you as a person. He comes at you straight and tells you how it is. What I like about Coach Crowton is when he steps into the room, his presence fills it. That is a big difference between Crowton and the other coaches. He speaks with the spirit..."
That revealing appraisal was published in a Dec. 20, 2002, article on TotalBlueSports.com from then-recruit Ofa Mohetau after his first face-to-face meeting with Crowton. Mohetau, the biggest offensive line recruiting prize in BYU’s storied football history, was on every published All-American list and was considered the country’s best offensive guard in the last 5-10 years, according to national recruiting experts. He selected BYU over scholarship offers from every major football program in the country.
Mohetau and many a BYU recruit have taken immediate measure of the BYU head football coach and walked away impressed more by what they feel than what they see or hear in person. It’s a special quality that’s difficult to describe and even harder to compete with. Crowton is providing his time and talents to an institution that holds a unique attraction for prime-time young football players who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Crowton is good at what he does, but recruiting the best-of-the-best LDS prospects can be a complicated process. If it were just a matter of meeting Coach Crowton and looking him in the eye to gauge his sincerity, BYU’s football recruiting coordinator Mike Empey would have it made in the shade. All he would do is tell his boss, diplomatically, to “Sic ‘em, Gary,” then sit back and wait for the bluest of the LDS blue-chippers to sign.
Despite the fervent hopes of most BYU sports fans, that’s not reality. The Crowton camp’s results, however, are a testament to the man and the Cougar program that, following BYU’s worst season last year in 29 years and with only about eight scholarships available, the Y’s hard-working football staff signed a recruiting class that is probably the best in BYU history, pound-for-pound.
“We’re working in a different atmosphere. LaVell (Edwards) did a great job. Times have changed. Facilities and scheduling have changed. We have some new challenges. The Honor Code is tougher. There’s a lot of pressure to improve graduation rates. I’m trying to do it my way. I feel like I need to build a good future at BYU,” Crowton noted in a recent interview with TOTAL BLUE SPORTS.
It is clear from talking to Crowton that he has a very personal, long-term, big-picture perspective of what his role and purpose could be as the guardian of the university’s highest-of-high profile sports programs, but he’s probably revealed his innermost thoughts only to his wife and God.
A few probing questions, however, shed more light on the mind of Gary Crowton, father of seven children he adores and surrogate-father to more than 100 talented young men who have placed their faith, trust and confidence in him.
“BYU is a place you want to be at for a long time, especially with a family. This university puts you in a position to live up to higher standards. I’m very lucky to have grown up in the gospel (LDS Church). A lot of good habits of my parents’ teachings have helped me. When I was at other universities, I wanted to do well so I could move on to something better.
“This university has a top-notch program and a great commitment to winning. We are looked at as big-time football. I want to get us back up there as long as we continue to do things right.
“It’s a unique place, not a stepping stone. I want to have a long career at BYU and do well,” he continued.
When asked if there was anything that could lure him away, he responded, “It would have to be a very special thing for me to go anywhere else and it would have to be good for my family.”
Leaving BYU is the farthest thing from Crowton’s mind. “I want to do well at BYU. We’re now moving in the right direction so we can have some consistency. If we continue to recruit well, if people hang with us, we’ll just get better and better. Then we’ll be good for a long time. We have a lot of young players, but this is the most comfortable I’ve felt since I’ve been here. And we’re going to get better.”
Crowton said the bottom line that drives BYU’s recruiting philosophy is to specifically look for “good people who are great athletes.”
He and his assistants have a recruiting board with “over 2,500 names and about 15 scholarships (to offer) because of the Church’s missionary program.”
In his 2001 rookie season, Crowton and a Cougar team inherited from his early mentor, LaVell Edwards, surprised the college football world with an unexpected and impressive 12-2 record. This was a marked improvement over Edwards’ final season 6-6 record that closed his illustrious 29-year dynasty. But the high points in Crowton’s heady first season were superseded by the lows of last year.
“The thing about last year,” admitted Crowton, “was that we had very little experience (at quarterback, compared to) the year before. Bret (Engemann) did not have any experience the year before. Last year was very unusual for me. We were very young as far as experience goes. This year, the leadership and experience are better.
“I’ve had a good year and a not-so-good year. We’re going to get stronger in the future. The team’s commitment to winning is very strong right now. They weren’t happy with 5-7 (season record last year),” Crowton continued.
But what about the specific strengths and weaknesses of BYU’s offensive players this season? Crowton talked first about his quarterbacks.
“The thing I know is I’ve seen Matt Berry. This year, he’s going to be better. I’m also excited about John Beck (No. 2 on the depth chart). He is a guy who loves the game and is around it all the time. He has a lot of potential and is working hard to get better. The most experienced guy is Matt Berry. You have to give the inside nod to him because of experience.”
Not forgotten by the coach is high school All-American quarterback Ben Olson, the highest-rated quarterback ever to sign with BYU. Olson left early this year for an LDS mission to Alberta, Canada, but returned last month to Utah for a medical procedure. He will return to Alberta to complete his mission when he recovers.
“Ben is an outstanding talent. We could have played him last year, but he would not have been ready,” Crowton said, referring to the Utah State game. The quarterbacks’ merry-go-round was faltering and there was a definite expectation Coach Crowton would play Olson in that game. He opted not to. “I think we did the right thing not playing him. We have high hopes for him when he comes off his mission.”
Capable veteran back-up quarterback Todd Mortensen, entering his first year of law school, waits in the wings.
The unit Crowton is both concerned and thrilled about is his offensive line. “They’re young, but they have the right work ethic and they’re going to get better and better.”
Senior center Scott Jackson is “a very good, talented leader who is a good football player.”
He has good veterans in Brandon Stephens, Quinn Christensen, Scott Young, Cade McMullin, Vincent Xanthos, Hanale Vincent and others in the mix, but they recruited a freshmen class of offensive linemen that is the envy of most coaches nationally.
The gem of this year’s offensive prize recruits is Mohetau, a 6-3, 330-pound lineman who reportedly ran a 4.8 40 last year. He bulked up to 350 pounds prior to BYU’s fall camp, but will likely drop in weight prior to the start of the season.
“He was one of the hardest kids to get in the country. We’re really excited about getting him. He’s going to have a chance to push for a starting spot, but we have to do what is best for him and BYU.
Another freshman recruit he has high hopes for is R.J. Willing from Hawaii, who lives in Kahuku but was an All-State standout for Kamehameha School. “I’m really excited about him. He and Ofa will push somewhere (for starting slots). He’s a guy we’re looking at to do that. He’s a very good pass blocker for a high school kid.”
Two other redshirt freshmen expected to start this year are Eddie Keele and Jake Kuresa. Both earned first-team repetitions in spring practice.
“We’re going to play our best five, no question,” said Crowton. “We’re going to let them all compete. We feel we’re going to be strong in the future. We addressed that need in our offensive line recruiting.”
Crowton said the addition of Todd Bradford as the wide receiver coach and naming him and quarterback coach Robbie Bosco as offensive co-coordinators should result in a “sharper” offense.
“Last year, we were really young at quarterback and offensive line. Injuries really hurt our offensive line. Defensively, I’m really excited about this year. There are a lot of returners,” Crowton noted.
Questioned about his pattern last season of calling offensive plays on 4th downs (successful only five out of 20 attempts), Crowton said, “I didn’t do it later in the season. I did it more in the first part of the season. I want to be aggressive and win games.
This issue of TOTAL BLUE SPORTS features the first of a two-part series about the revival of the Polynesian Pipeline since Crowton assumed the head coaching reins. He elaborated on the topic.
“BYU, in the past, has had a lot of good Polynesian players,” Crowton said, adding “That’s part of the success and heritage of BYU. When I came here, I asked why (we didn’t have as many great Polynesian players as before). I said we need to go out and get the best. We made a commitment to help them academically and we made some huge strides. I love the Polynesian people. They are good people, loyal and fun loving. That’s what I want.”
In a brilliant strategic move, Crowton brought former Cougar defensive end star Steve Kaufusi back to the Y as his defensive line coach. Kaufusi had been the defensive end coach at the University of Utah for eight years and was a key reason BYU didn’t sign some of the best Polynesian football talent from Hawaii, a traditional recruiting strength for many years.
Kaufusi was instrumental in landing top impact Polynesian athletes Mohetau, Willing, Brian Soi and Nebraska transfer Manaia Brown. Soi, a Top 100 national recruit, did not qualify academically this summer, but he plans to enroll at BYU this coming winter semester after he passes the ACT test.
“Steve Kaufusi has done a great job for us. He’s a good coach and recruiter. I just love him to death. Hopefully, his boys (sons) will be playing for us someday,” Crowton said, half-jokingly.
Utah’s new football coach, Urban Meyer, recognized Kaufusi’s move to Provo was a significant recruiting gain for BYU and an equally significant loss for Utah's own recruiting efforts. Coach Meyer tried to lure Kaufusi back with an offer of more money. Crowton, however, was able to keep his only Polynesian coach secure and happy within the BYU fold. No terms were announced.
While Crowton has reached a “comfortable” point in his budding career at BYU, it is noteworthy to explore his impressive accomplishments.
He was an all-league quarterback at Orem High School and an All-American player at Snow College, but Crowton never played for the Cougars, instead and completing his eligibility at Colorado State University. From there, he answered an inner call for LDS missionary service in South Korea and holds the distinction of being the only currently active BYU coach to have an LDS mission on his resume. (His predecessor, LaVell Edwards, did not go quietly into retirement. He is just completed an LDS mission with his wife, Patty, in New York City.)
After Crowton completed his mission, he enrolled at Idaho State and ran track for a time before enrolling at BYU. His coaching career began there, when he was given an assignment as a student assistant under LaVell Edwards in 1982. Also on the coaching staff was Mike Holmgren, former Green Bay Packers head coach and current Seattle Seahawks head coach. The standout quarterback at the time was Steve Young, who topped his professional career as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Crowton graduated from the Y in 1983, a year before Robbie Bosco, his current assistant, led the Cougars to their only national college football championship.
Following the path all budding coaches must walk, Crowton pursued coaching stints at Snow College, Western Illinois and New Hampshire. His first major coaching assignment was as quarterback coach at Boston College for three years. Next he served as co-offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. In 1995, he left to accept a similar job at less-known Louisiana Tech and was named Tech’s head coach one year later.
It was at Louisiana Tech where he developed his own style and offensive approach, successfully beating major gridiron teams Alabama, Mississippi State and California.
Crowton gained the attention of the established coaching fraternity with his impressive record at Louisiana Tech. Chicago Bears head coach Dick Jauron called and offered him the position of offensive coordinator. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse. He coached there for two years until he accepted his dream job at BYU.
He was announced as BYU’s new head coach in December 2000 by then university president, Elder Merrill Bateman. His first coaching mentor, LaVell Edwards, applauded the announcement. "Gary is a very articulate, hard-working football coach and will do a great job. He has an excellent understanding of the game. From the opportunities I have had to work with Gary, I've always known he had the potential to be a very good coach. Everyone he's worked with has given him a glowing report."
Despite living such a high profile, public role as the head football coach for a globally recognized university, Crowton remains intensely private about the people he loves most – his family. We asked him three family-related questions hoping to penetrate his guarded nature on the subject.
Who was the most influential person in your life?
"My mom was the most influential person in my life. She has always been there to stand by us and support us. She's a great mother and has been very influential in my life."
Do you recall the exact moment you knew you wanted to spend the rest of eternity with your wife, Maren?
“In church, one Sunday.” No elaboration. No further discussion.
What is your favorite family activity outside the house?
"Our family enjoys getting out and going biking. We like to ride our bikes through the neighborhood, but mostly up Provo Canyon. It's really beautiful up there."
No comprehensive article about Crowton would be complete without mentioning his children: Dane (16), Tara (15), Jenessa (12), Quinn (9), Mikauli (7), Toriana (3) and Macloud (1).
His official press bio concludes with this Crowton quote: "The most important things in my life are my family and my church. It is a great feeling to know no matter what happens on the field, I will always have my family to be there and it's always a nice feeling to go home to my family."
In the midst of BYU’s summer camp, as his assistants directed more than 700 bright-eyed, eager-to-please young men in various skills and drills, Crowton was frequently seen driving a golf cart to different camp venues with several of his daughters along for the ride.
A day later, a TOTAL BLUE SPORTS editor bumped into Crowton on the field as he observed some of the action and casually shot the proverbial breeze. Minutes later, glancing at his watch, he politely excused himself, saying he had to rush to watch his daughters at softball camp.
And you thought a coach’s job is never done? Try being Dad in the Crowton household with seven kids who need, and sometimes demand “Daddy’s” time and attention. For Coach Crowton, it's a lot like overseeing a lot of talented and enthusiastic young athletes at BYU's summer camps, except, of course, at home he expects and receives lots of hugs and kisses.
Ever the coach, Crowton donned his football hat again with a concluding hope and expectation for this season. “I want to finish strong.”
He just did.
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