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Dick Harmon: The Wizard returns: Former BYU head coach Gary Crowton front and center at SUU

Published: Saturday, April 12 2014 5:20 p.m. MDT

New SUU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton works with the Thunderbirds during spring drills in Cedar City. Crowton was the head coach at BYU for four years.

Courtesy SUU

CEDAR CITY — The Wizard is back.

Inside Thunderbird Stadium at Southern Utah, Thursday’s session of spring practice is about to begin. Players are warming up like ants at a picnic. In the center of it all, new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Gary Crowton is decked out in a black cap, black T-shirt and black shorts. Ditto for black shoes and black socks. He glides around, barking out instructions with a plastic armband on his right forearm that displays practice goals.

Music blares over the stadium speakers throughout practice as head coach Ed Lamb surveys the setting, thrilled to have Crowton and his caravan of experience in camp and on contract. Echoing across the field and ricocheting off the seats and scoreboard is Michael Jackson’s hit song “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Propelled by Jackson’s melodic falsetto, the lyrics spread across the artificial turf in a wave.

"I hear your voice now/ You are my choice now/ The love you bring/ Heaven's in my heart/ At your call/ I hear harps/ And angels sing/ You know how I feel/ This thing can’t go wrong/ I can’t live my life/ Without you."

Cedar City is the latest stop for perhaps the most-traveled native college coach in the history of Utah sports. In a business of nomadic coaches, SUU is ecstatic to welcome Crowton, the Bedouin whose career has been filled with legendary stops.

Crowton has coached football at every level, from his latest stint at Winnipeg in the CFL, to the ACC’s Maryland and Boston College and a national championship ring with LSU of the storied SEC. He’s been at Oregon, BYU, the NFL’s Chicago Bears, Louisiana Tech, Georgia Tech, New Hampshire, Western Illinois and Snow College in Ephraim.

That SUU found Crowton comfortably laid back in his new St. George home in Snow Canyon and convinced him to coach the Thunderbird offense in 2014 is a very big deal in this town.

“I’m excited. I love the kids, I love the challenge, and this is what I enjoy doing,” said Crowton, projecting a wide smile and squinting steel blue eyes.

“It’s really cool for us,” said Lamb. “It’s great for our staff because we get his stories and his perspective. He’s said a few times he wishes he’d never left Louisiana Tech. There are better facilities and things seem bigger at other places and sometimes our guys get caught up in that too.”

As far as Lamb can tell, Crowton is having the time of his life. “From moment one, if anybody had any questions about if Gary was coming out of retirement or was serious about coaching here, they learned he is deadly serious about winning here.”

SUU quarterback Ammon Olsen, who transferred from BYU after the 2013 season, said even though it’s only been a few weeks, it seems like Crowton has been with the Thunderbirds forever.

Nicknamed “The Wizard” by LSU players, Crowton’s impact has been immediate in Cedar City.

“He’s a genius,” said Olsen. “His mind goes so fast, but I love how it works and his offense will do extremely well for us down here. It’s fast-paced, but it enables us to read the defense. It utilizes all our talent and skill with the running backs and receivers.”

Olsen’s first week at SUU, former BYU quarterback John Beck called him and explained how Crowton’s mind worked and how the veteran coach would really be good for him. “I got really excited. Watching film with Coach Crowton, you learn something new every day. He really helps with progressions and how somebody is open on every play.”

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