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Journey to the Hall of Fame

Sep 12, 2022

Editor's Note: The following story is part of a series highlighting the members of the 2022 Washington State Athletic Hall of Fame Class. The Hall of Fame induction will take place, Sept. 16-17, at the Washington State University campus. The induction dinner will be held Sept. 16 at Beasley Coliseum with the 2022 class also being recognized at the Washington State-Colorado State football game at Gesa Field the following day. 

In between sessions of George Raveling's Cougar Cage basketball camp, Tammy Crawford took a walk on the Washington State University campus and saw several rowing shells out on Rogers Field. 

Crawford was intrigued enough that, days afterward, she went to the nearby Snake River to join the rowing club team on the water. 

"I fell in love with it," Crawford said.

Originally wanting to direct her athletic pursuits to the basketball court, Crawford's walk by Rogers Field and rowing on the Snake marked the beginning of her passion for rowing.

And it marked the beginning of her journey to the head coach of the WSU rowing program and induction to the Washington State Athletic Hall of Fame.

From WSU to Seattle and back

Crawford rowed for the Cougars on the club team from 1981 to 1984, graduating from WSU in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in biology and secondary education.

"Even after I rowed, I never really thought about coaching," Crawford said. "I wasn't planning on being a coach."

After graduation, Crawford was working various jobs including a return to the club team, this time as a coach.

In the spring, during a meet with the Washington Huskies, Crawford was approached by Bob Ernst, the coach for the Huskies, who inquired about her interest of serving as a coach in their program.

"Bob met me on the dock and asked, 'Do you want to come to come to Seattle and be a coach?'"

"I said, 'no,'" Crawford said, and then adds with a smile that she thought to herself, "I'm not going to be a Husky." 

But after giving it more thought, Crawford called Ernst and asked if he was still looking for a coach.

"He said 'Yep,'" Crawford recalled. "And I moved to Seattle."

Calling Ernst an "amazing mentor" Crawford completed an internship as a graduate assistant coach with the novice crew and then the following year became the Huskies' full-time novice coach.

Even while coaching in Seattle, Crawford was still following what was happening at the east side of the state.

"I had my eye on WSU," Crawford said.

Building a program of success

In 1990, Crawford returned home to Pullman as head coach of the newly established NCAA intercollegiate rowing program at WSU. 

There were several factors that led to her decision to become the first head coach of the program: Raising a family with her husband Roger in Pullman and returning back to her alma mater were draws, but the biggest one, said Crawford, was the opportunity to build a program.

"I'm a builder and I really wanted to take it on," Crawford said.

Crawford, along with her assistant coach Jodi Winchell, her husband Doug, and Roger, set out to develop the program.

"I couldn't have done any of it without Jodi," Crawford said. "We did it all together. Between Jodi, Doug and Roger, the four of us, we built the varsity program together."

Crawford was faced with the challenges of transitioning rowing from a club to an intercollegiate sport program.

"It's difficult to transition a club-mentality athlete, where its okay to come out in the fall then go away a few months and come back in the spring," Crawford explained. "That's permissible as a club."

Crawford leaned on her experience as a club athlete and coach at WSU, and as a coach at Washington. 

"That's where the benefit having coached at UW, under that regiment, structure and discipline," Crawford said. "I was able to instill that expectation and try to continue to wrap the fun and team into it, and help them understand that it is work."

Upon her hiring, Crawford said, "I look for an athlete who wants the challenge a competitive program will offer. I look for commitment, a competitive attitude and dedication."

During Crawford's first years of coaching, her rowing teams demonstrated that competitiveness, capturing three Pacific-10 Conference titles and one national championship. 

In all, a dozen rowing teams finished in the top three at the Pac-10 Championships and five crews finished in the top six nationally during the Crawford regime. In 2002, Crawford's last year as head coach, the varsity eight boat earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships, becoming the first Cougar representatives at the NCAAs.

Impacting lives

Among all of the successes, Crawford's favorite memories are not the accomplishments on the water, it's the memories gained of building the program and the athletes she coached.

"The time spent with Roger, Doug and Jodi and being down at the boathouse," Crawford said of memories that stand out to her, "just the four of us working together in those first few years to problem-solve, to build and lay the foundation.

"What I take pride in is looking back at the women I coached, what they're doing now, and that they keep in touch with me," Crawford adds.

Crawford points out a text she received from an athlete she coached when the Hall of Fame announcement was made.

"I got a text with pictures and a lovely note about what an impact I had on her life," Crawford said. "That's what I take pride in, just knowing the impact that we, as a program, had on each other. They are lifelong friends and supporters of each other."

Another example is an interaction Crawford recently had with a past athlete she coached during her first years at WSU, demonstrating the impact that Title IX and she had on her life.

"She came up to me and said, 'The only reason I came here and get my degree was because of Title IX. You need to know that you lift women up and just wanted to say thank you,'" Crawford said.

In 2002, Crawford decided to retire to focus on raising her family and pursue new challenges.

She earned her PhD and remains at WSU, continuing to impact the lives of WSU students as an associate professor, Sports Management in the College of Education

Over four decades after her walk by Rogers Field, Crawford induction ceremonies will take place nearby on the WSU campus marking the latest stop on her WSU journey.

And she is quick to point out she doesn't want the honor to be about her.

"I want it to be about the people whose shoulders I stand on," she said. "I couldn't have achieved it without the people who came before me or the people alongside of me."

Recently, Crawford tweeted a picture of her at the Cougar Cage Camp.

As she reflects on her Hall of Fame career and time at WSU, Crawford looks back on the picture.

"I had no idea I would be a head coach, I had no idea I would be a professor," Crawford said of that moment in her life. 

"The number of Cougs who find their way back to Pullman, so many come back," she added. "This is life. This is comfort. I can't imagine anything else."