SEC Media Days: Rooting for a Good Man

HOOVER, Ala. -- The consensus here at the SEC Media Days is that the conference coach most likely to lose his job during or after the 2007 season is Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom. It certainly is reasonable for Croom to be on the hot seat, but count me among those rooting for the former Alabama star to succeed on the sidelines in Starkville.

Sylvester Croom has not had much success in three years as the Bulldogs' boss. State has won just nine times in 34 contests. Their performance in the SEC has been even worse with just four SEC wins against 20 setbacks. In fact, Croom's most notable accomplishment may well be his 2004 victory over the Florida Gators that sealed Ron Zook's fate in Gainesville.

Croom is an impressive individual with a booming, confident voice as he talks about the progress his program is making in all areas except for wins and losses. But we all know that's what it will come down to. Croom addressed the pressure he's feeling heading into this campaign.

"I feel a great deal of pressure; the same pressure I felt when I was in ninth grade in Tuscaloosa," Croom said. "The pressure to win a game and have the bragging rights after the game was over. Now if you're asking me if I'm worried about being fired, no. I've been coaching for thirty years and I've never had to go looking for a job. I've always had the Lord bless me with one."

Croom says he has gone about building the Mississippi State program for the long haul and refuses to take any shortcuts for his job security.

"I know we're doing things the right way, and I know our plan is going right," he said. "But we're at a point in my tenure where we as coaches always know it's a possibility. If that should ever come about, I'm quite grateful for the opportunity to do it my way. I'm very fortunate at Mississippi State to have my Athletic Director Larry Templeton and my President Dr. Foglesong that have allowed me to do things exactly the way I believed in. So regardless of the outcome I'm far more fortunate than a lot of guys in this business. I got to do everything exactly the way I wanted to."

Croom made history when he became the first black head football coach in the SEC, taking over a program that Jackie Sherrill had completely lost control over. As bad as the record of the past three years has been, State was actually worse (8-27, 3-21) in the three years prior to Croom taking over. In his first three seasons, Sylvester Croom has restored a sense of pride and dignity to a program that was among the worst in the nation. His kids go to class, avoid arrest and try to compete in the nation's toughest league.

Last year Mississippi State lost three games by a field goal. It might take turning around all those results and getting to the .500 mark for Croom to stay on, and that's a shame. It takes longer to do it the right way, but the benefits last a lot longer, too. Sylvester Croom's success in Starkville would benefit the SEC as a whole and aspiring black coaches nationwide. For all concerned, I hope it happens.

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