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BYU & LA Tech Don’t Have Many Connections Except For Gary Crowton

29 Aug 1998: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs head coach Gary Crowton (C) looks on during the Eddie Robinson Classic against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Tom Osborne Field in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers defeated the Bulldogs 56-27. Mandatory Credit: Brian B/Getty Images

PROVO, Utah – Friday night will mark the first-ever meeting between BYU and LA Tech on the football field. When most people in Utah think of LA Tech, they likely think of Utah Jazz legend “The Mailman” Karl Malone or, to a lesser extent, former Jazzman Paul Millsap.

But on the gridiron, there maybe isn’t much that comes to mind when BYU fans think of LA Tech football. Other than former Steeler and FOX NFL talking head Terry Bradshaw.

There isn’t a whole lot of connections between the two programs. LA Tech is still a relatively young football program, having played at the FBS/I-A level since 1989. But there is one unique connection that dots through the histories of both the Bulldogs of the Bayou and BYU; it’s Gary Crowton.

Crowton was the head coach at both programs. An Orem, Utah native, Crowton was the head man at LA Tech from 1996-1998 and at BYU from 2001-2004. Crowton’s time in Ruston, Louisiana, led to other coaches making stops in Ruston and Provo with Crowton, including Bronco Mendenhall. The latter coached the DB’s for LA Tech during their Bulldogs 9-2 year in 1997 that featured a win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The “Crow Ball” era’s at LA Tech and BYU had mixed results, but the offenses at both of his stops in Ruston and Provo had some memorable moments.

Crowton coaches LA Tech to historic performance against National Champs

One of the best moments for Crowton at LA Tech, oddly enough, came in a 29-point loss against defending National Champion Nebraska in Lincoln. The 56-27 loss against the defending National Champion Cornhuskers produced an NCAA single-game record for receiving yards courtesy of Crowton’s offense.

Wide receiver Troy Edwards had 21 receptions for 405 yards against the vaunted Blackshirts defense of Nebraska with quarterback Tim Rattay slinging the rock to him. That performance in Lincoln elevated Crowton’s status in the coaching profession and also LA Tech in their hopes to find a conference home.

Crowton, who is currently working as a football coach/teacher at Pine View High School in St. George, joined me on the Cougar Tracks podcast this past summer to reflect on his coaching career at BYU, but also his time at LA Tech.

“It was a fun game with a ton of yards against the number one defense in the country. It was really good for LA Tech, they ended up getting in a league, and it was really good for Troy and Tim and our whole team, and obviously, it was good for the coaching staff and [me].”

The performance put LA Tech on the map nationally. Crowton’s old running backs coach at LA Tech Clint Conque, a former FCS head coach at Central Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin, once said this about Crowton, “Tech is indebted to him. Football exploded there. Fifty schools were flying in to learn what we were doing on offense – Purdue, Colorado, Tulane. It’s like has an extra chip in his brain.”

That performance against the Cornhuskers was enormous for Crowton as he became one of the hottest commodities in coaching. Crowton was linked to the Auburn head coaching job after the Tigers fired Terry Bowden in 1998. Even Robert Kraft from the Patriots had Crowton as a finalist if the Pats weren’t able to secure a deal with Bill Bellichick from the New York Jets.

With Crowton being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and having an elite offensive background, the offensive wizard became a top coaching target for BYU’s administration in preparation for the day LaVell Edwards would retire.

“Crow Ball” leaves LA Tech, eventually arrives at BYU

After LA Tech, Crowton took on the offensive coordinator role with the Chicago Bears with Dick Jauron’s staff. Edwards was ready to retire from BYU after the 1999 season, BYU contacted Crowton to take the job to begin the 2000 season, but Crowton promised Jauron he would be in Chicago for at least two years. So Edwards held off on his retirement for another year. Crowton then arrived in Provo the following year and produced one of the top offenses of the program’s history in 2001.

The last time BYU won 12 games in a season was in 2001, coached by Gary Crowton. Crowton’s first BYU team started the year 12-0 and rose to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll before giving up 72 points to Nick Rolovich and the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors to end the perfect season.

Crowton’s vision for offensive football was ahead of its time. His 2001 offense catapulted Brandon Doman as the “Domanator” and Luke Staley to the highest hone for a college football running back, the Doak Walk Award.

When Crowton arrived at BYU, he brought many coaches from his staff with him to Provo. Paul Tidwell and Mike Borich were hired on Crowton’s staff in year one with former Tech assistants Bronco Mendenhall and Todd Bradford, making the transition to BYU a couple of years later in 2003. Crowton also brought Kevin McGiven, a former Tech wide receiver, to BYU as a graduate assistant. McGiven is currently the offensive coordinator at San Jose State, where the Spartans were No. 4 in passing offense last season.

Crowton’s tenure at BYU helped shape coaching careers for prominent figures in the Cougar football program today. Kalani Sitake, Ed Lamb, and Aaron Roderick were all graduate assistants during Crowton’s four years as the head coach.

Crowton eventually resigned from BYU after the 2004 season. His coaching career didn’t stop after his tenure at BYU. Crowton became the offensive coordinator at Oregon and LSU when they won the National Championship in 2007 with Les Miles.

Listen to my interview with Crowton on Cougar Tracks to hear more about his experience as BYU’s former head coach.

*****

When you watch No. 22 BYU host LA Tech for the first time on the gridiron this Friday night in a General Conference weekend tilt, you now can say a unique connection between the two programs.

Crowton’s coaching tree from LA Tech to BYU

  • Bronco Mendenhall: DBs at LA Tech (1997) | Defensive Coordinator at BYU (2003-2004)
  • Mike Borich: WRs at LA Tech (1997-1998) | Offensive Coordinator at BYU (2001-2002)
  • Todd Bradford: Defensive Coordinator at LA Tech (1997-1999) | Co-Offensive Coordinator at BYU (2003-2004)
  • Kevin McGiven: Wide Receiver at LA Tech (1998) | Graduate Assistant at BYU (2002-2003)

No. 22 BYU vs. Louisiana Tech

Date: Friday, October 2nd

Kickoff: 7 p.m. (MDT)

TV: ESPN2

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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