More SEC Football Media Days Notes

Comments from SEC football coaches and players are featured.

Hoover, Ala.--Sylvester Croom admits that it hurt being told he wasn't wanted by his alma mater when that troubled football program made a change in leadership and picked a different NFL assistant to attempt to get the Tide back on track.

Instead of selecting Croom, one the Tide's all-time great players and a successful assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers, Bama selected another NFL assistant with a Tide background, but less impressive credentials in Mike Shula.

The jury is out on whether Shula is the right man to lead the Tide after a disappointing first season as head coach in Tuscaloosa. However, across the state line in Starkville, Mississippi State officials seem thrilled that Croom was available to take over after the final year of the Jackie Sherrill Era ended with disappointment followed by more disappointment.

Wide receiver McKinley Scott said that Sherrill lost his players as losses on the field mounted. "Players just started to go their own ways," the 6-0, 197-pound senior noted.

Croom said up until the time that Shula was selected as Mike Price's replacement that he believed that he was going to be the choice to take over at Alabama and was "very disappointed" when that didn't happen. However, he said he quickly got past that and added that the opportunity at Mississippi State might have turned out to be the best thing for his coaching career.

The Bulldogs have drawn plenty attention for hiring the first black head football coach in SEC history. The early reviews among the Bulldog faithful have been good concerning the back to basics approach he has taken with his players on and off the field. However, Croom said the focus of fans will soon turn to wins and losses. Since Sherrill didn't exactly leave the cupboard fully stocked when he handed over the keys, Croom is making no promises on how many games his team should be able to win this season.

"All we are asking them to do this year is give us a maximum effort," the coach said at day two on his first appearance at the annual SEC Football Media Days.

On the field this past spring in Starkville, Croom preached the virtues of old-time football, talking about blocking, tackling and crisp execution. Off the field, he told the players to buckle down on their academics and avoid getting into trouble.

Croom said the big difference in coaching in the pros vs. coaching in college is that the time he gets to spend with his collegiate players is only a fraction of what the pros spend with their players. For example, in installing the Green Bay version of the West Coast Offense he noted that he only expects to use 15 to 20 percent of the plays that the Packers had at their disposal.

He noted that even after the Bulldogs have had several years in the system, he doesn't expect them to ever run more than 25 percent of the plays the Packers use. Instead of working with a huge playbook, he said that he plans to spend a lot on the field time going over the same plays until his players get them right. Trying to do more will lead to less production, Croom contends.

"We will keep cooking them and cooking them and leave them in the oven until they get fully baked," he said. "We won't run them until they are absolutely perfect. We will not cut back on our practice and forsake blocking and tackling to put in more plays."

Wide receiver Scott, who is expected to be one of Mississippi State's star players this year, said the changes are drastic with the switch from Sherrill to Croom. Scott noted that Croom did not inherit a good situation as far as team morale is concerned.

Scott said that Croom stresses doing everything well. "He wants you to work to get better on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom," the receiver said. "Our morale is better now. It seems like everybody is trying to come together and do the right things."

Scott, senior offensive tackle David Stewart and sophomore quarterback Omarr Conner are three players singled out by Croom as leaders who he is counting on to show the way to behave on and off the field.

To let his players know that he is serious about their academics, the coach said he will be a surprise visitor to classrooms on the MSU campus monthly to check up on the players. He noted that he recently surprised a player who arrived late for a class and didn't see his head coach in the back of the room until Croom asked the professor a question.

"The talent we inherited was about what I expected," Croom said. " From a discipline standpoint I was disappointed as far as class attendance and those type of things." Croom added, "After spring practice we asked them to invest in themselves and invest in each other."

In other notes from day two at SEC Media Days:

*Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks, who has an extensive coaching background in the Pac 10, said the biggest surprise he has had coaching in the SEC is the size and speed of the players on defense. He said the cornerbacks are particularly impressive with their physical style of play. "There are an awful lot of outstanding defensive players in this league," he said.

*Brooks bristled at the generalization that Kentucky is just a "basketball school" when answering a question at media days. "My definition of a basketball school is you don't fill the stadium and you don't bring in more money than the basketball program. We were 23rd in the nation in attendance last year with a 4-8 record. If we start winning like Tubby (UK basketball coach Tubby Smith) is winning, we will be known as a football and basketball school.

Rich Brooks

"When you bring people in there it is unbelievable to me to see the enthusiasm, the facilities," he added. "All we need to do is get some "W's" and go to some bowl games and compete for the championship and that ‘basketball school' image will disappear and we will just be known as one of those schools that wins at both."

Brooks, who was involved in the NCAA record longest game with a seven-overtime loss to Arkansas last season, would like to see the overtime rule require teams to go for two points after TDs in the second and following overtime periods. He also said it would make sense to back up the offense five yards each overtime period to make it more difficult to score. "It was probably one of the most exciting ball games I have been ever involved in," the 63-year-old coach said of the loss to the Razorbacks.

*Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe said that college coaches need to be able to spend more time with the athletes in the offseason to build a stronger bond with the players and be more of a positive influence. He said that the extra time should not include football activities such as practices or meetings.

*Georgia defensive end David Pollack refused to talk about his team's struggles with the Florida Gators. Pollack said the only game he is interested in discussing is the season opener vs. Georgia Southern.

David Greene is one of the reasons Georgia is receiving high marks in the preseason as a team to watch.

*Pollack's teammate, quarterback David Green, would talk about the Gators. "It has been frustrating for us," he said. "They have beat us twice in the fourth quarter."

Green was sacked 47 times last season. He said the offensive line doesn't deserve all of the blame. The QB noted that some of the sacks were his fault by not moving to avoid the pass rush and other sacks were caused by running backs not picking up the blitz.

*Georgia is a football team known for having lots of good athletes. When asked who is the best athlete on the team, Green said that wide receiver Fred Gibson is really good, but that another wideout, Reggie Brown, is the best in the QB's opinion.

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