Coach Croom Press Conference

Coach Croom, during Tuesday's press conference, talked about injuries, the Vanderbilt game, his team's improvement the past few games, the affect turnovers have had, his team's fragile psyche, UAB, not taking shortcuts to build his program, and the kind of players that he plans on recruiting.

Opening Statement

Injuries
"Things are pretty decent right now. I figure Brian Anderson might play. I knew if anybody could get well, he could. So, we have a shot there. Omarr (Conner) is ahead of schedule. I was told that if we had to play next week, he could play. That's a positive. Other than that, we have a few nicks and bruises. Darnell (Jones) is still a little beat up and probably won't do much contact work (Tuesday). Willie Evans probably won't get any contact work today, but we expect him to be ready to, hopefully, get some practice in (Wednesday). And we definitely expect him to play this week. Really, we are in a lot better shape now than what we were when I talked to them after the ballgame."

Vanderbilt game review
"In our review of the Vanderbilt game some of the things we discussed with our players, first thing was we discussed the positive things that we did. We had some really nice hits in that ballgame. We had some people who played very well. We had some great effort. Guys like Brett Morgan gave great effort. The best guy in their kicking game was number 23 and Brett completely took him out and he was a non-factor. Corey Clark blocked a field goal, which was another great effort play. Jerious (Norwood) probably had his best game of the year. The offensive linemen are getting to the point, despite the injuries and never having the same unit in there, where they are close to starting to really make some strides forward. And, more importantly, playing up to their ability. Our two tackles, Stewart and Burch, have done that all year. Chris McNeil had his best game of the year. It was time for him to step up and he did that. I think that is why we were able to run the ball. The big improvement came from Brian Anderson. Our screens were better because of some things he did in the game. That was positive because we definitely want to be a good screen team. While I was pleased with the hitting and effort, I was, of course, disappointed with the loss.

"The thing I pointed out to our players was we have to make plays. We were in position to make plays, but we had missed assignments on defense. On our option plays, we didn't carry out our assignments as we had in practice. And we got beat on them. We had a guy there to make the play on Cutler on his long run for his touchdown. We had a guy in place to make the tackle on the fullback on the long run just before the half. They completed a pass with 19 seconds left, the last play before the half. We had a whole coverage where a guy is sitting dead in the middle. Any pass but that one should have been completed. We had a guy sitting exactly where he is supposed to be. It was the perfect call and we just don't make the play. On the two interceptions that we had, our receivers have to come down with the ball. At the very least, we should have come back with an incomplete pass."

Kicking game during the Vanderbilt game
"Our kickers have to kick the ball better. Our punters have to punt the football better. We have to make better decisions with our return unit. We had a critical error on a kickoff return that really put us in a hole. There was no excuse for that. We have to be better with that. I'm going to quit coaching our punt returner. I'll let (assistant coach) Amos (Jones) coach him, because he was better in our first ballgame and I've over coached him. I'll leave him alone now. I'll let him go back to doing what he was doing, because he was doing a lot better before I started coaching him."

Improvement of his team since the Auburn game
"There is no question that our players are improving. They are buying into what we are asking them to do. I went back last night and had a long look at the Auburn game. We are a better team today than we were in the Auburn game. Our record doesn't indicate that, but we are better. It was encouraging to see how much we have improved since that ballgame. We just have to get to the point where we make plays on a consistent basis."

His team's psyche
"When something does not go our way we need to respond immediately thereafter and make the next play. A prime example of that is when we got the negative call on Will Prosser's touchdown. We came right back and had a great opportunity to make the first down, but we didn't make the play. I think from there it went downhill. That's strictly in mindset. Part of what we are trying to do this year is get that mindset changed in dealing with adversity."

UAB
"They are a very fine team, a very fine team; one of the better teams that we (will) have played this year. Looking at them defensively, their scheme is very similar to Auburn's. They have the same kind of fronts, although they do a few different things like a few more pressures, a little more zone. The things that are impressive about them is how they run to the football and how well they tackle. They are a well-coached defense, very well-coached.

"On offense, they have an excellent quarterback who is very similar to the guy at LSU. Darrell Hackney is his name. He is 6-4, 6-5 and about 250 pounds and looks like a giant oak tree and has a great arm. The thing that is impressive about him is he doesn't make bad decisions. When it's not there, he simply throws the football away. He can make every throw. He has an excellent target in Roddy White. To get up in his face, we are going to have to really get some pressure on the quarterback because he can really beat you on the one-on-one bump and go the distance and make the play.

"Their scheme is very multiple. (UAB head coach) Watson (Brown) is still doing a lot of the things he did years ago, everything to the wishbone to nobody in the backfield. He uses the two back base, two tight ends, one back, two wide receivers, four wides, five wides. We are going to be very sound and probably very simple in our defensive schemes so that we will know what we doing. That will allow our guys to play with some confidence."


Q & A

With Brian Anderson out, what is the rotation going to be on the offensive line?
"He's not totally out. If he can play, I'm sure he will play. Johnny Wadley will play at that position, but he's not 100%. We'll have to spell him with some people. (Royce) Blackledge will play some guard and we moved Donovan Davis inside to play guard."

What were the improvements that you saw in this team since the Auburn game?
"First of all, we are tackling better. The guys running free in the game the other night weren't due to missed tackles, we just had guys who didn't take the proper assignment. We made some very nice hits in the ballgame the other night, very nice hits; the kind you can hear on the sidelines, the kind you can feel. Those are things that we haven't been doing since the Tulane game. Our offensive line is much better. It is much better as far as our blocking. We ran the ball better. Our protection was a lot better. You can see our confidence growing in what we are doing, not just in the assignment but in the concept. In the passing game, Tee Milons has improved and that has helped us. But we still have a lot of improvement to do.

"One of the things that has handicapped us on offense is our receivers have been injured. Will Prosser is the only one that has been there every week. Our offensive line has been injured since the spring. Will Rogers didn't go through the spring, then Johnny Wadley gets hurt. He and Will don't through much of training camp. The only two guys that have been there all the time is Burch and Stewart. Then, last week our quarterback is out. Not to make excuses, but those were real things. But that is part of the game. You have to go and play with the guys that you have. If we had made the plays presented to us in the ballgame, we win the game."

Have the turnovers been the problem the past few games?
"That and poor tackling. Some of the turnovers have come because we have gotten ourselves in a situation where we had to press, particularly the interceptions. When you throw the ball up, you hope you either get the completion or an incomplete pass. That is what we have to get our receivers to understand. If you are going to throw the ball deep, which we need to, the receivers have to make sure their guy doesn't come down with the football. The fumbles are a problem. That is my fault because I got away from doing some things I had been doing. Believe me, I went back to it yesterday. We will get their attention about fumbles. Pre-snap penalties and fumbles are the most concerning things. Either we are going to get them eliminated or we are definitely going to be the best conditioned football team in the history of America."

Do you see McKinley Scott and Ray Ray Bivines playing this week?
"I don't know. You keep hoping against hope. I'm about to the point where if they do they do, but I'm not getting up a lot of hope."

How far away is Devrick Hampton from helping the team at his new position on the offensive line?
"Next spring. He is a long way away. He is improving. It is a situation where Devrick has never played offense. First of all, he didn't really want to do it. His heart wasn't in it. I think yesterday was the first time that he had any fun doing it. I understand that because I went through the same thing myself. I didn't want to play center. It was the worse mistake I ever made. There is nothing glamorous about playing on the offensive line, especially when you have been a defensive player. The point I made with Devrick is I asked him to trust me. If he plans to play beyond college it is going to have to be as an offensive lineman. I think he has limited chances of playing defensive line, even here. With the guys that we have and the guys that we are going to recruit, his chances of playing defensive line is very limited now and in the future if we sign the players we intend to sign. But he has a very good chance to be a good offensive lineman and possibly be a good offensive lineman beyond college if he puts his heart into it. He and I have an agreement; if he wants to move back to defensive line at the end of the season that is totally up to him. I will honor that request."

You've said before the losses won't matter as long as you build a solid foundation for the program. However, have the losses made it harder and less fun?
"It's not easy because it is not fun. When you have to work as hard as you have to in the business of playing and coaching, you would like to have the chance, after the contest, to enjoy and laugh. But there's no laughter. The sun is not quite as bright and the flowers don't smell as sweet as they should. But life goes on.

"Even though you mentally know this is part of the process that you have to go through, no it's not any fun. As I told the players, I understand that this is not any fun for them. I've been doing this 28 years and it's not any fun for me.

"But I do have the experience and can see them getting better. I showed them the plays yesterday and how they are improved. They have to believe that; they have to believe what I'm telling them and trust us as a coaching staff. This is part of building a solid foundation. We could take shortcuts. I think back to some decisions that I made this spring from a personnel standpoint. Had I not made them, we might have won one of two of those ballgames. One or two of those players might have made a difference.

"But, like anything else, if you don't have the foundation solid, if you don't do the right things, if you don't build the program the right way, it is going to crumble at some point. You pay now or you pay later. I would rather pay now. We are paying the price now."

Would you have been able to switch Ronald Fields to the three-technique if Andrew Powell hadn't been playing as well as he is?
"Oh no, it would have not been possible. Andrew Powell allowed us to make that move. And it was a good one. I think Ron made 7 or 8 tackles the other day. He had 4 or 5 assists. They can't double him now. Those two guys are playing well.

"I'll say it right now, Andrew Powell and Brian Anderson are our two most improved players. I am extremely proud of both of them. I don't think life has been any harder on this team than it has been for Brian Anderson because his coach has been on him, I've been on him. He has been injured and we thought he was down for the count, but he just keeps coming. The Brian Anderson's and Andrew Powell's of the world is what I want our program to be about; young guys who have some character about them. There has been nothing come across my desk on either one of those guys. They go to class. They go everywhere they are supposed to be. They do everything that they are supposed to do. They show up to practice everyday. If you don't call their name, you never hear a word out of them. I still don't know if Andrew Powell can talk. I've never heard the guy say anything. If we continue to get the Brian Anderson's and the Andrew Powell's in this program, you won't have to worry about schemes and things like that. All you do is draw up one or two plays on offense and one or two plays on defense and go play. Those guys are winners."

Brian and Andrew weren't highly recruited. What makes them so much better than some of the players that are highly recruited?
"I'm glad you asked that question. They are better because of the class and character that they have. I know from experience. I had the good fortune when I first starting recruiting that the first player I ever signed was a guy named Mike Pitts from Baltimore, Maryland. Nobody wanted him. I looked at the kid on one tape and I asked Coach Bryant if I could sign him. Coach Bryant said, 'do you want to coach him.?' I said yes sir. He said take him. The kid never had an official visit. His parents were coming in for Christmas because they had family somewhere in Alabama. I said come on by. The only thing I did was going up there to make sure his transcripts were right. That's the only cost that we had to sign that kid. He played for us for five years. He didn't miss a practice the first four years. He was an All-American, a first-round draft choice and played 14 years in the National Football League. I signed three Parade All-Americans and none of them played a down for us. The next best kid I signed, a kid from Prattville, Alabama, played 7 or 8 years in the NFL. The first day I went to his house he told me nobody had even offered him a scholarship. He played 7 or 8 years in the NFL. I had a kid from LeRoy, Alabama, 1A high school. He lived so far out in the woods, he literally had to pump sunshine in there. 1A high school, nobody else offered him a scholarship, he was a first-round draft choice.

"My point is, as a coaching staff, we will go to high schools in this state and anywhere else and do our own evaluations. If we like the guy, we will sign him. We don't care if LSU likes him or Ole Miss likes him. We don't care if his name never shows up in any recruiting magazine. If we like him, we will sign him and be glad to get him. There will be some high school All-Americans in this state and elsewhere that we don't want to get for various reasons. We won't recruit them and we won't offer scholarships. That is the way our recruiting is going to be."

Has the NCAA situation affected your recruiting to this point?
"No. First of all, we are in a situation where if you are a good football player, no matter what the position, and you have been offered, if you are one of the first twenty guys that say, 'coach, I want to be a Bulldog', then we are going to check them off and sign them. We are not waiting around to see what other guys are going to do. We have told the prospects that and we have told the coaches that. That's why we have gone through such a meticulous process of who we offered. I didn't want to offer a scholarship and they commit and we didn't really want them. The first 20 guys who commit to us and end their visits are Bulldogs. If he is still visiting, it's still wide open.

"Plus another thing that is very important is we are not going to do anything extra to get players, absolutely nothing. They either want to be a part of this program or they don't. I want kids who want to be here. Mario Bobo, the first kid who committed to us, could have gone anywhere he wanted to. I honestly didn't think he would stick to his commitment to us. It's not a surprise to me that he handled the pressure of going down there and starting against LSU, because he is mentally mature enough. You see that in their decision making process. The guys who know what they want to do, make their decision and stick with it are usually a little more mature than the others. They are not caught up in the glitz and glamor of recruiting. It also tells you what kind of family background they have and what is expected of them, what kind of discipline they have and what kind of values they have. All that shines through during the recruiting process. Quite often, some of the guys that are heavily recruited, you have to take a year to de-recruit them. They think they are God's gift to football and it takes you a year to get them back to reality. I want the Mario Bobo's of the world. I want to be their coach."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the source for Mississippi State sports on TheInsiders sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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