What do you see as the significance of that fact?
"(More strong laughter) Man, I'm just trying to see."
[This humorous question was more to break the ice than anything else. I wasn't going to add it at first, but I just thought you guys would enjoy reading Coach Croom's reaction to the question.-Gene]
Now, to more serious things. I don't know if you truly know the significance of your press conference you had the day you were announced, at least from the viewpoint of MSU fans. Here's my impression of that day. To be honest with you, there were some folks, MSU included, that thought your hire was a political hire. But, you changed that with that press conference. To me, it was like you came up to the plate with a 3-2 count in the bottom of the ninth of the 7th game of the World Series with the bases loaded and you hit a grand slam. I don't know if you are a great speaker or just a people person, but you definitely hit a grand slam with that press conference.
"I didn't play anything. I'm just going to be myself. The people that I have a lot of confidence in, Bobby Ross, especially, said, 'be yourself.' He said, 'I promise you being yourself is good enough.' That is what I am going to do. Everybody is not going to like me. I know that. But, I'm going to be myself. I am going to do it with the players as well as everybody else.
"When I first took the job as the coordinator (at Detroit), a guy that I worked with and have a great deal of respect for, said, 'if you try to be anything but yourself, people are going to know it. You aren't going to fool anybody. If you try to be anything than you normally are, people are going to know it. Just because you move up to another level, don't change, be yourself because that is what got you there in the first place and that is what is going to keep you there.' That's the way I'm going to approach it. I wouldn't be happy any other way. That's how I want to run our program here. Whatever I say to the players, whatever I say to the coaches, I want our program, more than anything else, to be class and honest."
In one article, it was reported that you only got about 3 hours sleep one night. I was wondering if that was normal for you during this time.
"There were a couple of nights early where I couldn't sleep. When I got in bed, I was wide awake. When I get really, really tired, I can't sleep. I knew then that was a signal for me. I knew then that I had gone too far, so I pulled back and got some rest."
I probably have between 10,000 to 15,000 fans who visit my site. Based on what they are posting on my message board, the thing some of them are concerned about is whether your double duty is hurting recruiting. What's your opinion?
"Here's the situation; we were behind from the start because of the gap between the time Coach Sherrill retired and the time of my hire. The worst thing that happens anytime there is uncertainty, there is a tendency (by kids) to lose interest because they want stability. Some of them expressed that when I was talking to them.
"First of all, I was under contract to the Packers for another year. So, even when the discussion came up - and it would have been easier for me to just go ahead and leave - the Packers wanted me to finish the season. And for the playoffs we will take it week by week. (Mississippi) State knew this because I talked to Larry (Templeton) about it when the discussions started.
"From a recruiting standpoint, I felt like the playoffs, if we were successful, might help me more than it hurt me. I thought it might help us to make up the time we lost in recruiting. Realistically, how in the world am I going to establish a personal relationship with all the prospects when I can only see them one time in such a short time? There is no way. So, my hopes were the more we won at Green Bay, the more we would appeal to them. We are going to run the same offense, the exact same offense with the exact same terminology. I'm trying to use it to make up some of the time we lost."
Do you feel it is working?
"I think so. I know it has some, but it won't totally until they commit. But, in my conversations with them, I think it has been very positive.
"Another thing has been the timing. The last two weeks (a recruiting dead period) you couldn't do anything but call them. The week prior to that, Rockey (Felker) and I were out from almost 8 (a.m.) to midnight three/four days in a row. We came in here a week prior to the dead period and Rockey and I got on a plane and we did about 3 or 4 (in-home) visits a day. We hit it hard. We hit it hard just before we left. It was great because I had been in those kids homes and have been talking to them ever since."
When are you going back out?
"I am going out next week. We already have that set."
Let's say Green Bay wins this Sunday. How much will you be out doing in-home visits next week?
"I'll be out Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and be back in here Friday. I intend to be here Tuesday night. And we'll probably have a team meeting Wednesday morning."
Speaking of a team meeting. There are all kinds of rumors about what you said to the players in the team meeting you had with them prior to the press conference you had when you were first hired. One of the things that I've heard is you told the kids that anyone who had a 2.5 gpa average would be moved back on campus. Is that true?
"No, I didn't say that. What I said was that if a player is in academic trouble, they may have to move back on campus. If they aren't doing well in school, we will probably move them back on campus."
Another rumor I heard was there would be no chewing tobacco, no earrings, no necklaces allowed.
"I said when we have meetings, there would be no cell phones in meetings, no cell phones in study hall. There would be no chewing tobacco and no eating in any meetings. I know of some pro teams where there are guys sitting in meetings with cell phones going on, some guys in meetings and study hall with stereos on. You go into study hall to study, so why do you need stereo head phones on? If a guy wants to chew tobacco on his own, that is his business, but from a cleanliness standpoint, he's not going to do it in study hall or a meeting. I think it is just as much as anything else respect for each other and for the property we have here. We are going to try and keep everything nice for the players and I want to make sure they keep it up."
In the past, MSU had one fulltime strength coach and a graduate assistant for football. In comparison, Ole Miss has a strength coach for each position. What are your plans in that area.
"We just hired a strength coach and we are going to have a fulltime assistant for him once the position is created. That will be a new position. In order for us to compete with the other schools, the weightroom and strength department has to improve. With the exception of the weightroom, I was pleased with everything else from a facilities standpoint and thought we were competitive. I also believe, from a personnel standpoint, I felt like it had to improve. And Larry (Templeton) even mentioned that before we even got deep into our discussions. He had serious concerns about that. In fact, that was the area he was most concerned about. And after my visit here, I could see why.
"Players love to be in the weightroom. When they get stronger they feel better about themselves. They know they can compete better. There is more of an air of confidence when you train like that.
"I am very impressed with (new MSU head strength coach) Jim (Nowell) and his program. I am going to give him everything that we possibly can to help him get the job done."
When do you start your weight and conditioning program?
"We are going to start the offseason program the week after next. Next week will be an introductory period, a discretionary workout for them next week. Then, the off-season workout will start the next week."
How difficult will it be for you to judge high school talent after having dealt with football players that are the most talented in the world, NFL football players?
"The one thing that will help me is I did it before. But you are right, there is more of a projection than what you do in the pros. In the pros, it is basically what you see is what you get except for certain situations. However, I'm not so sure it's not moving toward that in high school because the talent level has gone up so much. But, to a certain degree, it is still like that, particularly with the linemen.
"But, that's why I got those coaches. In fact, I'm the only one that is coming from the pros. So, all of them are experienced college coaches. That was intentional. A lot of guys that I know in the NFL are great coaches but the (college) rules have changed so drastically since I was last in college. And, as you say, evaluating talent at this level is different than when they come out of college. It is totally different. It'll take me some time.
"By the same token, I have a real good feeling where they should be by their junior and senior seasons because that is what I really looked at while in the NFL. Now, what I have to figure out is in two years can this guy be at the level that I have seen while studying all the schools in the country for the last 17 years. You get an idea where the talent level is, so I know where our talent level has to get to to beat the other teams in the country."
It seems like college coaches want their offensive linemen to be 6-3 to 6-4 or taller. You've been in the pros for many years. Do you feel the same way?
"Yeah. Times have changed a lot since I played (as a 6-0 offensive lineman). When you are in a dropback passing offense, it makes a big difference. You want guys with long arms for pass-protection as much as anything else. That is where the height comes in. I know when I went to pro ball I was at a disadvantage because of my height. And that was 1975. At that time, I was an average sized offensive lineman. Now, I would be an average sized running back in the NFL. My backup running back, Najeh Davenport, weighs about 250. That is what I was just about playing at and he runs a 4.5 forty. I never saw 4 anything (laugh). Even height on the defensive linemen is a factor.
Will you require your linemen to be in that height range?
"We will have physical profiles for each position, but that will be an in-house thing because nothing is ever 100%."
You've been away from recruiting for quite a while. What are some unexpected things that have happened on the recruiting trail since you have been out?
"The rules. Everyday."
I mean things that may have happened out on the road.
"Really, nothing. To me, dealing with people is still just dealing with people. That is what recruiting is. And that is not a problem. I had people tell me that I wouldn't have a problem with recruiting because I like to deal with people. When I get in a player's home, I feel at home. I feel very comfortable talking with the players and their family. But the rules..when you can or can't contact a player...how many times you can call him in a week...you can't call them, but they can call you...now, we have to write down everytime we call them. I don't know how you can keep up with all of that. That's why I have gotten on our compliance people. I don't do anything until I talk to them. All of this is going to be a brand new learning process for me.
"The biggest thing for me is everything is not always like you want it. If I had been recruiting these guys from January to now, I would feel real, real good, I mean real good. Because, if I had gone through the high school season, I would know the high school coaches. I am not going to have a personal relationship with the kids or coaches just because I was named head coach. I really believe that the way I am going about it, under the circumstances, is the only way I can. I feel good where we are today. And I will feel a whole lot better when they start committing and signing. And I really do think we are going to have a really good recruiting year.
"Under the circumstances, the coaches I hired did an excellent job. As soon as I hired them, they came right in here and went to work. And I didn't see them for the first two weeks. Amos Jones and Freddie Kitchens, as soon as the word was go, they went straight to recruiting. They were out and we were calling back and forth.
"But, realistically, I am going to feel a whole lot better this time next year because I will know the high school coaches by name. I will have been in their schools, I will know the junior college coaches by name and will have been in their schools. I will have been recruiting these kids the entire off-season. They will know me and I will know them. Our players here will know me and will be better ambassadors for us in recruiting."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.