"I coached at Alabama A&M. And Coach Croom's daddy, Reverend Croom, was a graduate of Alabama A&M. That was really the first time that I met him. But I knew a lot about Coach Croom before then. I was a high school coach in Pensacola, Florida when he was coaching at Alabama. Then, when I was playing at Alabama State, he came along a little later and played at the University of Alabama. After that, I kind of followed his career. Naturally, being in coaching, at some point in time you are going to cross paths. We weren't recruiting the same players when he was Alabama and I was at Alabama A&M, so sometimes I would call him and he would tell me about different players. With the amount of money we had in our budget, we didn't want to waste a lot of money going places unless we really had a chance at a guy or we knew he was a good player.
"Then, when I went to Alabama to coach in 1990, his daughter, Jennifer, was a student there. She worked in the office and would always came by. I would talk to her and ask her how her dad was. He was in the NFL at Tampa Bay at the time. That's when (our) relationship really got going, because he would come back to see her and visit with his parents. When he visited, we would get a chance to spend an hour or two together.
"I would also go up to the (NFL) combine in Indianapolis every year and he and I would have a chance to sit and talk a little during that time."
I believe Coach Croom contacted you pretty quickly after he was hired. What was it that caused you to accept his job offer?
"(Two reasons were) I knew the type person he was and he also gave me the opportunity to be the assistant head coach and (offensive) coordinator in the SEC. A lot of people can't say that they have been given that opportunity at two institutions in the SEC. It's a lifelong dream for a lot of guys in coaching to be given that opportunity just once.
"Another reason was I had a cousin who played here, Jackie McCorvey. I also had another cousin, Sharon, who is from Moss Point, who also went to school here. Naturally, I knew about Mississippi State from them.
"Also, due to my years in coaching at the University of Alabama, everytime we played Mississippi State we knew it was going to be a tough, hard-fought football game. It was even that way when I was at South Carolina and Mississippi State beat us. When you go back and look at the history here, in terms of players, it was always a place where scouts, when they came through Tuscaloosa, always talked about the players at Mississippi State."
Do you two have similar offensive philosophies?
"We do. He coached at Alabama with Coach (Bear) Bryant. I've been on the staff with Danny Ford, Gene Stallings, Mike Dubose. All of us have that philosophy that has kind of being ingrained with Coach Bryant down through the years. He won with fundamentals, techniques, not beating yourself, a sound kicking game, run the football and play good defense. That transcends into wins."
Is that what Coach Croom and the rest of you want to bring back to Mississippi State?
"That is the thing that Coach Croom believes in because of the way he was brought up in coaching. You go back and look at the teams he has been with in the NFL, they always have good running back. All of his teams have always been able to run the ball. Even the time when he was coordinator, they were able to do that. His time at Alabama, that was their trademark. That is something that I also believe in. The biggest thing is that you are good with your fundamentals and are good technique-wise. Some people get caught up in schemes too much. It is more than just schemes. It is doing the fundamental things right. That is what is going to help you not lose games and, in the end, win football games. You have to have that toughness."
Why did you get into coaching?
"It was a way I knew I could stay involved with athletics for a long period of time and still have an opportunity to work and develop young men everyday and help them become good, productive citizens, fathers and husbands. My daddy was a high school principal in the state of Alabama for 35 years. My high school coach lived next door to us and I saw how (he and my dad) had a big influence over young people's lives. That is what I wanted to do."
I get the impression that you are a hard-nose type coach. Am I correct in saying that?
"Yes. I really believe if you are going to survive in this business, in this game, you have to be tough minded. There are things that you have seen over the years that have won games even though the general public might not think so. Since these things have been tried and tested and you know they work, then that is what you have to do. Then, you have to be able to relay these things to your players. You have to have the right kind of methods that you are going to use to get it over to your players."
Speaking of relaying things over to your players, have you already determined what your plans are for spring practice?
"That is something that Coach (Croom) and I and the offensive staff are going to have to sit down and talk about it. I have some ideas but I don't want to talk about them until we sit down collectively and put our thoughts together.
"However, one of the things you want to come out of the spring with is some toughness. You don't want to go out there everyday and beat them up, but you want them to be mentally and physical tough. The other thing you want them to come out with is confidence; confidence that we are going to be able to do these things and do them well. I also want us to not have the defeatist attitude. When we go out and play, we are going to be competitive. When we come off the field, no matter if we won or lost, people will know that Mississippi State is a good football team."
I know it's pretty early to decide what your summer camps are going to be like, but what are some things that you want to accomplish in your summer football camps?
"The biggest thing about camp is whenever that kid came to camp, the mommy, daddy, granddaddy, grandmomma, aunt, uncle, I knew somebody paid his way to get there. So, when he left - and I don't care if he was the poorest player in camp or he was a top-notch prospect - I wanted him to leave with a good experience if he worked with me. I was going to coach and teach him as if he was the top guy. You never know what kind of influence he will have on somebody else on his team. If you don't give him the attention and you go into his school, then he might say that guy didn't treat me right in camp. You never know what will be the thing that helps you with a prospect."
It sounds like you are going to be a hands-on type coach at the summer camps.
"I want them one day to send me a note - just like a lot of them already do - and say I really appreciated the time and effort you spent with me. I had a young man call me two weeks ago after seeing that I had come here. I coached him in high school."
What will be the thing that will help Coach Croom in regard to recruiting?
"The biggest thing about Coach Croom is his reputation, what people think about him. They know he is a good man. Everybody that you talk to, everybody that he has been around, everybody he has coached with, they all know the type man he is. That is what is so special about him.
"He is here to help the young men. He wants to help them to become the kind of people who are going to be productive citizens in our society when they leave here. If you get enough of those type people, it will transcend into a lot of other things. They will have a lot of pride about themselves."
You talked about Coach Croom's outstanding reputation. Considering that he has been in the NFL for quite awhile and away from the southeast, how will those folks know about his reputation?
"With the way it is now with the Internet, you hit a button, it is known. People know who you are. And with Sylvester Croom, you don't find any negative things out there about him."
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.