What a Difference a Year Makes

HOOVER, Ala. -- Last year at this time Sylvester Croom was being asked about his job security after three lousy seasons at Mississippi State. Despite his 9-25 record the resolute Croom insisted that he not only had zero concern about that, but that he finally had a football team that could compete in the SEC.

He was right on both counts.

Mississippi State's 8-5 season would have people furious in many other SEC cities, but not Starkville. No, when you haven't won more than three games in any of the six previous seasons you are celebrating big time when you win eight games. (Need I remind you Gators about the thrill of the 1980 season?). State packed the Liberty Bowl for their win over UCF and is using that to build confidence for 2008 and beyond.

Croom will have one of the most experienced teams in the SEC with 21 seniors and 13 returning starters – 15 if you count the kickers. Their non-conference schedule includes a tough road trip to Georgia Tech, but their SEC slate does not include Eastern Division powers Florida and Georgia.

Croom is the first and only black head football coach in the SEC, although the second apparently will be Kentucky offensive coordinator and "Head Coach in Waiting" Joker Philips. The Bulldogs Coach talked about his team's chances in the SEC West and the still terribly slow progress in hiring more black head coaches in major college football.

Croom on contending in the SEC West ----- "We have a chance. That's the great thing about playing football; you don't know until you put it on the line. When I look at the teams in our division we've had a chance to go out and compete against the other teams on our side except Arkansas and LSU, two very good programs. Our lines of scrimmage on both sides of the ball are starting to get closer and more competitive. Anytime you can compete on the line of scrimmage you have a chance. I'm not saying we're at that (championship) level right now, but we have a chance. So that's the way we'll go about things this year and that's our goal, to win the SEC West."

Croom on getting more black coaches top opportunities ----- "I really think – this is a personal opinion and you may agree or not – that until head coaches start giving their top minority assistants chances to be coordinators it's not going to change. There's no athletic director who is going to walk in here to you and present a hire that has not been a coordinator. That's the reality of the business. So I don't lay it at the feet of the athletic directors; I lay it at the feet of the coaches."

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel

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