After 12-2 opening, three straight losing seasons

Updated: December 1, 2004, 7:25 PM ET
Associated Press

PROVO, Utah -- Gary Crowton's tenure at BYU began with tremendous promise and ended with the Cougars' worst struggles in 40 years.

Crowton agreed to resign Wednesday, ending his four-year stint with BYU and months of speculation that this would be his last season in his dream job.

He won his first 12 games at BYU, but that was as good as it would get for the Utah native and former Cougars assistant.

BYU finished 5-6 this season and went 14-21 over the last three, the school's worst three-year run since the early 1960s. BYU's three consecutive losing seasons are the first for the school since six in a row from 1959-64.

"At this time I feel like it's time for me to step down and let the football program move on in a different direction," Crowton said.

Crowton replaced LaVell Edwards after the 2000 season. Edwards turned BYU into one of the most successful and entertaining programs in the country before retiring after 29 years as Cougars coach.

"When I took the job, following LaVell Edwards was the biggest challenge," Crowton said.

Crowton spoke at a news conference before reporters and dozens of BYU supporters, who applauded him as he walked out of the room in the stadium named for his predecessor. He met later in the afternoon with his players, who had expected a move was coming.

"I don't know if you can be prepared for a rumor to become a reality, especially when you develop such a great relationship with a coach as a man," tight end Phillip Niu said. "I have nothing but good things to say about him."

BYU senior associate athletic director Tom Holmoe, a former NFL assistant and coach at California, said he is not a candidate to take over as coach. He said administrators suggested a change was in order and Crowton agreed to resign with one year left on his contract.

"We talked about the resignation and we talked about the future of the program. What was best for him, what was best for the players and the future," Holmoe said.

Crowton grew up just outside Provo in Orem, graduated from BYU in 1983 and worked under Edwards.

He coached Louisiana Tech for three years, going 21-13, and was offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, when he was tapped by BYU.

Crowton returned to Provo with a wide-open offense that was prolific his first season and brought back memories of BYU at its best, with Edwards guiding quarterbacks such as Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer.

The Cougars started 12-0 under Crowton, making a run at breaking into the Bowl Championship Series before losing their final two games. He could never duplicate that success.

"I felt like I was up for the challenge to build it back up and I've been trying to do that. It just hasn't come quite as fast as I had hoped," Crowton said.

The 2003 season was BYU's worst in 30 years. The Cougars went 4-8, won only one home game and ended the season with a 3-0 loss to rival Utah that snapped a 28-year run of not being shut out.

This season started out well with BYU beating Notre Dame 20-17. The Cougars also came within a missed last-second field goal of beating Boise State. They were 5-4 going into their final two games.

Trying to become bowl eligible, the Cougars lost 21-14 at home to New Mexico and ended the season with a 52-21 loss to the Utes in Salt Lake City. Three of BYU's opponents -- Utah, Southern California and Boise State -- are still unbeaten.

"It was tough to hear the news and see him go. I have a lot of respect for him. He's done a lot for us," offensive lineman Jake Kuresa said. "It was pretty rough, but if they feel like that's what's best for the program, for the team, we have to just make the best of it."

Crowton lost a strong supporter in the program when athletic director Val Hale, a former high school teammate of Crowton's in Orem, was fired Sept. 8.

Crowton said he wants to get back into coaching and would pursue other job opportunities.

Lance Reynolds, a BYU assistant for 22 years, will take over as interim coach while administrators search for a successor to Crowton.

"I wish I would had gotten more wins," Crowton said. "In this business, that's what it's about -- getting wins."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press