By Jeremy Twitchell
Even now, it”s hard to be mad at the guy.
As difficult as the last three seasons have been to witness, it was hard to get down on the guy who tried everything he could think of to sneak in a win and endured hours of criticism and biting questions with stoic patience and a smile.
Although it was tempting to call for his head in the darkest hour, a blowout loss to that school up north to cap a third straight losing season, coach Gary Crowton reminded us Wednesday that he is, after all, just a man. And a pretty good one at that.
At the press conference to announce his resignation, Crowton looked and sounded like a man who achieved his wildest dream only to have it turn into his worst nightmare, an overwhelming disappointment with which even the harshest critics were forced to sympathize.
“One thing I can say is I”ve sure enjoyed my time here,” Crowton told the small crowd of reporters and boosters. “Coming back to Provo and to BYU is something I dreamed about as a youngster when I used to come in through the knothole. I had a great time watching those games … and it was a great honor for me to coach this football team and work with some great people.”
Often criticized as a man who was reluctant to accept responsibility for his team”s performance, Crowton took full blame for the team”s current position.
“There”s always things you would change,” he said. “I”ve made a lot of mistakes down the road and I”m the one that”s responsible for where we”re at right now and for our win-loss record – I”m the head football coach. That”s why I”m resigning right now. I”m accountable for what happened.”
Crowton said he met with athletic department officials after the season and, after doing so, accepted that the time was right for him to step aside and let someone else lead the team in a different direction.
And he”s right. He”s a great, kind man, but the truth is he wasn”t getting the job done. Be it an unfavorable schedule, divine intervention, or just plain bad luck, his best efforts weren”t quite enough to pull the team over the hump.
He succeeded a coach of legend and led his team through a difficult period of transition. He set the Cougars up for success – in the better moments it was plainly obvious that his teams were capable of greatness – but for whatever reason, he couldn”t pull it all together and it”s time for someone else to try.
Crowton supporters should not be mad at BYU. This was a mutual decision made by two parties who want the best for the football team. It was important to send a message to players, future recruits, alumni and fans that losing will not be accepted, no matter how nice the coach is.
In college sports, it all comes down to wins, and Crowton said he recognized he had not succeeded in that area.
“I am accountable; I recognize wins are important,” he said. “That first year when I got 12, I felt like I was standing on top of a hill, looking down. But it”s a long fall because we had all those guys leaving. I felt like I was up to the challenge to build it back up and I was trying to do that, it just hasn”t come quite as fast as I”d hoped.”
After thanking his coaching staff, the administration and support staff, fans, and even members of the media, Crowton gave a special thanks to his players.
“I really want to thank the players,” he said. “The players were a great example to me because we have great character on our team. I appreciate them, their hard work, their dedication, their loyalty. This year, with all the things that were going on, they were able to focus and it was just amazing to me. They were in a position to win eight of our 11 games, and I really appreciate those guys.”
While it was hard for the rest of us to sit through 21 losses in three years, you can be sure that he felt every one of those losses more deeply than anyone in the stands or pressbox. He probably would have rather faced an execution squad than go in front of the media to announce his resignation.
But he did so with grace and class, and hopefully that”s how he”ll be remembered. Senior Associate Athletic Director Tom Holmoe summed it up best when he addressed the media following Crowton”s departure.
“He”s a very classy man,” Holmoe said. “He came here and held his head high with dignity and [had] a great deal of respect and love for the university and for his players and coaches.”
In his final sentence as BYU”s coach, Crowton made a smooth exit that, for as difficult as it was, drew no tears nor anger.
“I”m going to move forward, and this university will move forward and it will be a positive thing,” he said. “I wish them the best of luck.”