IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Barry Switzer resigned as coach of the Dallas Cowboys today, saying it was in the team's best interest to have someone else in charge.

``At this time I believe a fresh start at this position will give the Cowboys their greatest opportunity to return to the top,'' Switzer said in a statement.

``I am deeply proud of what our players and coaches have been able to accomplish. A Super Bowl championship and three division titles are a source of great pride for this organization and its fans.''

Switzer did not talk to reporters. Team owner Jerry Jones, appearing alone at a news conference, said the decision was ``a very difficult and emotional one for everyone who was involved.''

``He had the toughness to walk into a situation that was as great a challenge as any football coach has ever faced in the NFL,'' Jones said. ``Barry Switzer was the right man for the right time.''

Switzer went 45-26 in four seasons, winning a Super Bowl in his second season and division titles in his first three. His final season, however, was a disaster, beginning with his arrest for carrying a gun in an airport followed by a 6-10 season that kept the Cowboys out of the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

Jones called the Cowboys' poor performance last season ``a temporary setback.''

He said he spent most of the last three weeks trying to decide whether a coaching change was needed. Switzer, 61, had long said Jones wouldn't have to fire him; he would resign.

``We have come to the realization we must chart a fresh and new path in returning this team to the level of success our fans demand ... of being a Super Bowl team,'' Jones said.

As for a replacement, Jones said: ``I will not share with you a time frame I have or a process for selecting the next coach of the Dallas Cowboys.''

Candidates include George Seifert, who left the San Francisco 49ers under strained circumstances a year ago. His contract with the 49ers expires Feb. 1.

Others include Terry Donahue, former UCLA coach; Jon Gruden, offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles; Miami coach Butch Davis; or perhaps even someone from Switzer's own staff such as defensive coordinator Dave Campo.

Jones did give a hint about who will next hold the job previously occupied by only Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Switzer.

``It will be someone who can work within a system that works,'' Jones said. ``The philosophy we have and how we approach football is why we've had three Super Bowl wins (under his ownership).''

Jones said Switzer would not have another role in the organization, even though he has at least two years left on a contract that pays him $1 million a year.

``His ledger is square with me,'' said Jones, who gave Johnson a $2 million going-away check when the parted ways in March 1994.

The fate of the assistants was not immediately clear. Jones said he'll bring some back, but he wouldn't be specific.

Switzer, who was seen entering team headquarters earlier today, said in his statement that he felt satisfied with the job he did.

``For nearly 40 years I have always cared deeply for ever player I have coached,'' Switzer said. ``I can walk away from this position with that same love and compassion intact. Moving away from those relationships is the most difficult aspect of this very personal and difficult decision.''

Jones said it was Switzer's decision not to attend the news conference.

``This is the way Barry wanted it, and under the circumstances we wanted to honor his wishes,'' Jones said.

Switzer's last year was the first losing season of his 20-year coaching career. He also lost three games in a row for the first time.

He took most of the blame for the failed 1997 season, even saying after the last game: ``I told Jerry he should get rid of the whole damn bunch of us.''

Switzer's departure was speculated often during his tenure, but the gun incident signaled the beginning of the end.

It became apparent a change was being made when Switzer was absent earlier this week from the news conference announcing the signing of offensive lineman Larry Allen to a six-year contract.

Players never lashed out against Switzer, but several made it clear it was time for a change. Quarterback Troy Aikman and fullback Daryl Johnston both have complained openly about the team's lack of discipline.

``Everyone pretty much anticipated it,'' defensive tackle Chad Hennings told KDFW-TV today. ``Barry anticipated it, too. Change is a good thing. At this time, I do think we need a change at the leadership helm. and to get us going into a different direction.''

Jones repeated today his intention to be involved with the coaching staff next year, so whoever is hired would have to be open to that. In fact, Jones has already drawn up plans for a 3-4 defense and other items he thinks might help get the Cowboys back into playoff contention.

The Cowboys had been in the playoffs six consecutive seasons before this season's problems, when the offense came apart from failure to score inside the 20 and constant mental mistakes and penalties. The defense, however, was the second-best in the NFL.

Switzer embarrassed Jones in August by getting arrested for carrying a loaded pistol in his luggage at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Jones, who wanted to show that he was serious about improving the Cowboys' tarnished image, fined Switzer $75,000 _ the largest ever imposed on an NFL coach. Switzer also ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, with a judge ordering him to pay a $3,500 fine and perform 80 hours of community service.

The Cowboys, apparently taking their cue from Switzer, played without discipline the entire season save for a 37-7 victory over Pittsburgh in the opener.

But things went downhill after that and the team was unable to recover. Ultimately, it cost Switzer his job.