Gary Crowton might be fool's gold. The new Maryland offensive boss comes in with a shiny resume. The man won a national title at LSU. He directed the offense for Oregon's 2005 squad that went 10-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl behind Kellen Clemens' savvy play. Simply put, he seems like a home run.
Don't fall for it -- yet.
The man has a pattern. Sure, you might bash me when the Terps go 10-2 this year and make it to the ACC title game, led by Crowton and Danny O'Brien. But after that, brace yourselves for the possibility of mediocre football.
Down in Baton Rouge we fell for him hard in his first year -- with good reason. Crowton led LSU's high-flying offense to the national title, where he Hulk-Hoganed the Sweater Vest's vaunted defense.
But his productivity faded. A quick Google search reveals a prophetic post from blogger Josh Harrison, a self-proclaimed diehard BYU fan (where Crowton was coach from 2001-04). On the day Crowton left Oregon to assume OC duties at LSU, Harrison warned LSU fans of their impending fate.
"The truth is Gary Crowton has a good offense," Harrison wrote. "But smart teams are going to figure it out. Guess who was coaching Utah when BYU went scoreless in 2003: Urban Meyer. Most of the coaches in the SEC are almost as smart as Urban and they will shut down LSU's offense. LSU has great athletes and he will find a way to make them look bad."
Bingo. Check out LSU's stats and records during Crowton's time in Baton Rouge (The numbers denote Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A) rankings. There are 120 teams in FBS):
2007 LSU (12-2, BCS National Champs)
Total offense: 26
Passing offense: 58
Rushing offense: 11
Points per game: 38.6
Crowton's first campaign was his piece de resistance. In his second game at LSU (his first was a 45-0 road win a against Mississippi State) and ESPN's College GameDay in town, the No. 2 Tigers blasted No. 9 Virginia Tech 48-7 in a resounding home opener. Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster seemed to be a step behind all game. LSU's sideline reporter relayed a story of a Hokie player telling former LSU and current Carolina Panthers wideout Brandon LaFell that the Tigers' offensive coordinator "was a beast."
2008 LSU (8-5, won Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Total offense: 55
Passing offense: 71
Rushing offense: 43
Points per game: 30.9
The 2008 season began to sour fans and local pundits on Crowton. Optimists pointed to the departure of veteran quarterback Matt Flynn as a reason for the slide. True, the Tigers did lose a lot of veterans, but they had enough talent to do better than 8-5. Fortunately for Crowton, new quarterback Jordan Jefferson showed promise in LSU's 38-3 bowl game blowout of Georgia Tech. A month-long break to study the Yellow Jackets' option offense didn't hurt, either.
2009 LSU (9-4, lost in Capital One Bowl)
Total offense: 112
Passing offense: 97
Rushing offense: 90
Points per game: 24.8
2009 was his worst season. Many were flummoxed as to why Les Miles retained Crowton after the offense's regression. In a down year for the SEC (aside from national champion Alabama), LSU could only muster 13.7 points a game against ranked opponents. Crowton made some inexplicable play calls down the stretch, most notably a middle screen with 38 seconds left and no timeouts in LSU's 19-17 Capital One Bowl loss to Penn State.
2010 LSU (11-2, won Cotton Bowl)
Total offense: 86
Passing offense: 107
Rushing offense: 28
Points per game: 29.6
The numbers increased a bit this year, but that can be attributed to the stellar defense. Defensive back and punt return specialist Patrick Peterson (the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft) averaged 29.1 yards per kickoff return and scored two touchdowns on punt returns. The defense racked up 19 interceptions and recovered 13 fumbles, and overall forced 32 turnovers. LSU's average starting field position was its own 40-yard line. That's a pretty nice setup if you ask me.
Even more damning was the consistent top-10 recruiting classes he had to work with. He couldn't take better advantage of wide receivers Terrence Toliver (No. 1 recruit in the 2007 class), Rueben Randle (No. 1 recruit in the 2009 class) and most notably Russell Shepard (No. 2 recruit in the 2009 class), who Crowton dreadfully misused.
This is not meant to be a personal attack on Crowton. From interacting with him a couple of times, I can tell you he is a nice man. Seems genuine.
But the stats don't lie.
Harrison's last paragraph: "LSU will probably have a great year with their athletes. They will score a lot of points. But don't expect them to stay that way. Not with Crowton as the offensive coordinator. The numbers don't lie."
He was right. Don't be surprised if the same thing happens this time around, Maryland fans.
Chris Branch is a sports reporting intern at The Baltimore Sun. He's also an upcoming senior at LSU, has worked at the student newspaper (The Daily Reveille) for three years and is a Baton Rouge native who has missed three LSU home games since he was 7. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.