December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Gary CROWTON admits it was not a particularly auspicious debut.
"Fifty-two to nothing," Crowton grinned earlier this week during Winnipeg Blue Bombers mini-camp, "was not a good day that (first) day I started to change the offence."
The score to which Crowton refers was of course the score in last year's Labour Day Weekend game in Regina as a Bombers team that had just fired head coach Paul LaPolice sustained their worst shellacking in years with Tim Burke at the head coach controls and Crowton for the first time entirely in charge of the offence.
Until that point in the season, the Bombers offence -- which had been all but hopeless -- had been a hybrid of what LaPolice wanted to do and what Crowton, in his first year in the CFL, wanted to do.
While Crowton is far too classy to say that was precisely the problem -- trying to marry his offensive scheme with the one favoured by LaPolice -- the evidence of what followed, and the quiet comments of other Bombers coaches, suggests exactly that.
Because after the loss in Regina and then two more in succession to the Riders at home and Calgary on the road respectively, the Bombers offence under Crowton's exclusive control went on a tear over the final seven games of 2012, leading the league in production and finishing 4-3 after opening the season at 2-9.
While no one -- including Crowton -- was happy with a regular-season record of 6-12, the way the Bombers offence finished was sweet vindication for a man Tim Burke says is widely considered among the finest football minds in the U.S. when it comes to designing an offence.
"He's really highly regarded. If you go down to the U.S. and say, 'Gary Crowton is on our staff.' They go, 'Really? Wow!'" Burke said Friday.
Burke said Crowton's exploits in turning around a moribund Louisiana Tech program in the late-1990s, followed by a stint as the Chicago Bears offensive co-ordinator in 1999-2000 and then more success as a head coach at Brigham Young have made him an offensive guru of sorts in the U.S.
And so despite Crowton's inauspicious CFL start, Burke did not hesitate to turn the offence back over to Crowton during this off-season.
Crowton dove into the project, describing this week how he completely immersed himself in his first real opportunity to design a CFL offence from the ground up.
"This has been my life," Crowton said the other day.
Indeed, it was Crowton who recommended the Bombers offensive line be returned intact. It was Crowton who recommended the signing of new QBs Max Hall and Chase Clement, the re-signing of Justin Goltz and the release of backups Alex Brink and Joey Elliott.
And, most importantly, it was Crowton who recommended Buck Pierce be given one more chance to be the starting quarterback, only this time in a new offensive scheme that Crowton has tailored exclusively to keeping Pierce upright.
Crowton says Bombers fans will instantly notice a difference in the Bombers offence in 2013. He says passing routes have been shortened and the ball will be coming out of Pierce's hand much more quickly than it did.
And the team's running backs -- perhaps their biggest strength heading into 2013 -- will become much more involved in the offence, both as part of maximum protection packages and in the passing game, in addition to grinding out yards on the ground.
"All these things," says Crowton, "I think will help keep Buck healthy."
So what does Buck think? Well, it turns out that Pierce thinks his safety -- and the immediate future of the Bombers offence -- couldn't possibly be in better hands.
"Coach Crowton is a coach that prides himself on challenges and prides himself on understanding scheme and defences," Pierce said Friday. "...He's meticulous... and I think the players get it. You see how far ahead we are in this mini-camp compared to last -- it's night and day."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 C4