Talking MSU football with Gene Swindoll."> Talking MSU football with Gene Swindoll.">

Monday Morning Coffee Break

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01columnists/gswindoll.jpg" align="left" width="120" height="161"> Talking MSU football with Gene Swindoll.

Sylvester Croom is a highly respected, but low-key, 49-year old African-American grandfather who is currently the Green Bay Packers running backs coach.

However, today, he could wind up being the most talked about head football coach in the college ranks if he accepts Mississippi State's offer to become their next head football coach.

Why so much anticipation over such an everyday event?

Unless you have been in space or in a cave the past few days, you would know that Croom, if he accepts the offer, will become the first African-American head football coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference, the undisputed king of the college conferences.

Croom, who was the runner-up for the University of Alabama head football coaching job in May of this year, has been very low key during this entire process.

He interviewed with MSU early last week. No one among the media knew or wrote a thing about it. Then, he interviewed again last Friday night. The mass media got a hold of it Saturday morning. ESPN talked to him but little was said by Croom during the interview. Then, he visited MSU Sunday afternoon for five hours and was extended an offer to become MSU's next head football coach. When he and MSU Athletic Director Larry Templeton arrived for Croom's flight back home, they met several reporters wanting to talk to them. Templeton talked to the media while Croom left on his fight to go back home.

Even though he has been low key as far as the media is concerned, he has been very active in regards to his concerns about the job. Does he have the talent? Will the NCAA investigation of MSU that is currently taking place be severe enough to hinder him, his players and his coaching staff? Will the necessary financial resources and freedom be provided by MSU's administration?

It appears the answers to those questions were provided Sunday afternoon by Templeton.

However, even if those questions were answered in a way that made him feel comfortable that MSU has done their part, this man knows the national importance of taking the MSU job because he will not only be representing Mississippi State University and MSU's football program, but an entire race.

Why an entire race, you ask?

Over the course of college football history, African-American men haven't been given many opportunities to be a head football coach on the Division I-A level. In fact, if he accepts the offer, Croom will be just the 5th African-American coach among the 117 Division I-A coaching positions. That's just over 4%.

The pressure that will be on him once he sets foot on the campus of MSU as their 32nd head football coach and first African-American head football coach will be large.

However, Croom, born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the son of the late Sylvester Croom, Sr., an influential minister in the Tuscaloosa community who has been honored by the University of Alabama as one of Alabama's 40 civil rights pioneers, is not one to wilt under pressure.

A product of the segregated South, he arrived on the University of Alabama campus in 1971, just a year after Wilbur Jackson became the first African-American football player to accept a football scholarship to Alabama. Despite the pressure, the 6-foot Croom thrived, becoming not only an All-America center that helped the Tide win a national championship, but also winning the conference's top offensive lineman award, the Jacobs Award, and the respect of Alabama head coach Bear Bryant.

He even thrived in the classroom, earning a degree in history with a minor in biology at 20 years of age.

After graduating, Croom played one year in the NFL.

From there, he was hired by Bryant as a graduate assistant and then coached 10 more years at Alabama before moving onto the NFL for the past 17 years.

Each place he has coached, he has helped them succeed. Each coach he has worked for has recognized that fact.

So did others.

MSU's Athletic Director Larry Templeton and President Dr. Lee, along with the help of an MSU advisory committee made up of various aspects of the MSU community, trimmed a list of over 180 names of coaches who expressed varying degrees of interest in the job down to a list of a final five that met every qualification they were looking for in a head coach. Croom was one of those five.

If he takes the MSU job, it won't be easy because he will take over a program that has won just 8 games over the last three seasons and is currently under NCAA scrutiny.

Will he be up to the task? When you are not only trying to succeed for yourself but for an entire race, you work a little harder.

As Croom said during a September 24, 2003 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "You have to be prepared, because if the opportunity comes, and you're not ready, or if you get the opportunity and you don't do well, it's going to do so much damage for other minorities."

Croom has done everything possible to prepare for this job. It also appears the MSU administration has also done everything possible to make sure MSU provides him with the necessary resources and freedom. Now, the MSU fanbase has to do its part by giving to the Bulldog Club, purchasing season tickets and purchasing chairback seats.

One other thing you can do today: Pray for Coach Croom and his wife as they make what will be one of the most important decisions in their lives and the lives of so many others.

Bulldog Club application...

Chairback seats application...

Have a great Bulldog week!

Gene Swindoll


Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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