PROVO — Falling on the proverbial sword, Gary Crowton resigned Wednesday as BYU's head football coach, assuming accountability for a Cougar program that struggled not only with wins and losses but off-the-field issues as well.
"I feel like it's time for me to step down and let the football program move on in a different direction," said Crowton, opening the LaVell Edwards Stadium news conference.
But Crowton — whose 26-23 four-year record concluded with the first back-to-back-to-back losing seasons in 40 years at BYU — also suggested he would have rather waved that sword in leading the Cougar team to battle in one last charge.
In one breath, the 47-year-old Orem native said: "I'm the one that's responsible for where we're at right now, for wins and loss. I'm the head football coach, and that's why I'm here resigning right now. I'm accountable for what happened."
And the next: "I felt I was up for the challenge to build it back up. I've been trying to do just that. It just hadn't come as fast as I had hoped. This year, I was just about there, with a couple of those close losses, a few too many turnovers and a couple of missed late kicks."
Facing the dozens-strong media contingent, Crowton made statements and took questions before departing. That left senior associate athletic director Tom Holmoe to speak on behalf of the still-A.D.-less athletics department about the future of the program and the hiring process of a replacement.
The change, Holmoe said, serves as a catalyst "to establish a strength and a power in the BYU football program that would bring us back among the top teams of the country."
Added the former Cougar defensive back and Cal head coach who himself resigned at Cal several years ago: "We want to do the very best we can, but we understand where we're at, where we've been and where we want to go."
In his first season at BYU in 2001, Crowton had his Cougars on the go, with the nation's most prolific offense racing to a 12-0 start and a No. 7 ranking. But the Cougars dropped the final two games, with similar late-season collapses resulting in 5-7, 4-8 and 5-6 records the next three years.
Since last month's season-ending 52-21 loss to BCS-bound Utah, Crowton had met in evaluation meetings with athletics administrators, who in turn counseled with university officials.
"As we talked about it, they had some concerns. I thought about those concerns, and I understand them," said Crowton, saying the program is bigger than any one individual.
"I still feel like I could get it done if I had that opportunity to keep moving. But at the time, looking at the players and everything, it was just time to let somebody else move into this spot."
Asked if his resignation was forced, Crowton stammered. "What I've said is as far as I'm going to go in that direction."
Holmoe stopped short of saying the same: "We evaluated his program and told him our position, and he responded. That was the time we suggested the possibilities, and he believed it was a good time to resign from the position and move forward and to allow the program to go on."
Recent off-field problems — assaults, sexual misconduct, rape allegations, alcohol use and pornography — hung over the Cougar program like a winter inversion. The local headlines and national attention not only gave the team and university a black eye, it also cost an "appalled" Crowton, who had incentives in his contract regarding his team and honor-code infractions.
"There was some embarrassment to the university," said Crowton, emphasizing preventive and corrective measures taken. "I felt like these things were not going to happen, but they did. They're young men, and they make mistakes — we all make mistakes."
Holmoe said standards have to be set and kept. "There's a standard for academics, for athletics and for behavior — sociability," he said. "There's a standard at this university that we all love and uphold, and that is something we look to as a positive, not a negative."
Crowton used Wednesday's farewell opportunity to thank his coaching staff, support staff, secretaries, fans, players and family. He also expressed confidence in leaving behind a program on the rise, citing 17 returning starters, nearly two-dozen returning missionaries with experience in the program and a more manageable schedule.
"I think the future's very bright for whoever the leader may be," he said.
The university now begins its search for a new football coach, with associate head coach Lance Reynolds handling the day-to-day football operations in the interim, said Holmoe, adding he is not a coaching candidate. The new head coach will have free rein in assembling his staff, with current Cougar assistants able to interview for positions.
As for Crowton, he said he has fielded several inquiries from coaches across the country — reports have linked his name with positions at Kentucky, Texas and back at Louisiana Tech, where he was head coach for three years in the mid-1990s. He said he'll use his BYU experience to his advantage.
"I've grown from it, I'm better for it," he said. "I'm stronger, and I'm ready for my next challenge."