Croom's Class on Display

Phillip Fulmer's fancy wrangling became topic number two Wednesday, from the moment Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom entered the room at Southeastern Conference media days in suburban Birmingham.

Croom was king Wednesday for several reasons. Nationally, he gets attention from ESPN and the New York Times because he's the first African-American head football coach in the SEC. Regionally, Croom is of interest because of a near miss at the Alabama job before landing at State. But at the local level, the excitement over Croom is because he's new, polished, and built in the mold of Paul W. Bryant, the game's greatest coach.

"Any success that I have had in my career I owe a great deal to the University of Alabama, and to Coach Bryant, and all those coaches that I had, and the players I played with," the former All-America lineman and Bryant assistant said.

"I think he deserves all the attention he is receiving," Mississippi State receiver McKinley Scott said. "He's been a breath of fresh air into our program. We needed something positive to be in the spotlight with Mississippi State football, and he's definitely that something positive."

For those charged with forecasting Mississippi State's season, Croom said that he would consider it a success only if his players go out and play to the best of their ability every game. To say four, five or six wins wasn't right. "Which ones do you concede?" he asked. "I'm not conceding anything."

Croom will go into the season with a quarterback who's never played quarterback in the SEC, Omarr Connor. He will be asked to pace a West Coast offense similar to what Croom learned in the National Football League, but you get the feeling that whatever the offensive scheme or play call, it isn't as important as the attitude.

"We will never forsake the fundamentals of the game, as far as blocking and tackling and those type things, in order to put in another play," Croom said. "We've got enough plays in now to get what we need to get done. It's just simply a matter of executing what we do have, being a good fundamental football team, not doing things to beat ourselves, give ourselves a chance to win, and then a matter of whether we have enough talent to beat the better teams in the conference."

Regarding Alabama, Croom dealt a lesson in facing issues head-on that could be used in an SEC coaching seminar:

"I had always sort of envisioned it the other way, that I'd be coaching my alma mater. That was always the dream," he said. "But as most things that happened in my life, what I dreamed, and what I sort of yearned for, maybe wasn't the best thing for me. I've had other opportunities created and so far things have turned out for me that the other opportunity has always ended up being the best thing for me."

"I was disappointed, and I'll never say I wasn't."

And as for Croom being the first African-American head football coach in the league, when asked if he had any thoughts: "Nope."


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