Building a national championship caliber football program....
"I want us to expect to win just like Alabama expects to win. I want the kids who come to Mississippi State to expect to wear championship rings just like they do here at Alabama. Alabama and Notre Dame, as far as I'm concerned, are the top two football programs in the history of college football. All these other Johnny-come-latelies, can't make up the tradition that Alabama and Notre Dame have. While I am at Mississippi State, I want us to have the same characteristics. I want guys in our program to not only want to win championships, but who are dedicated enough to make the sacrifices to win championships just like the kids who come (to Alabama)."
That's what Coach Sylvester Croom said during his post-game press conference after his team's 30-14 loss to his alma mater, the University of Alabama.
What brought this on was a question from a reporter who asked if he was glad that the Alabama game was over and he could now forget about it.
It is obvious that this is a man driven to have not just one of the best programs in the SEC, but one that will compete for national championships, year in and year out. Will he be able to provide a program like that at Mississippi State?
I'll let the sentence at the end of his quote answer that. "It is going to happen."
I had the luxury of being in the press conference when he said those words. He was looking straight into my eyes. After seeing the expression on his face, I know it is going to happen. There is no doubt in my mind that this man has whatever that special quality is that is needed to lead a program to championships. Every ounce of his being is consumed with a drive to be the best.
To him, success is the Alabamas, Notre Dames and Green Bays of the world of football, the teams that have the traditions of success. He played for one of those teams and coached for two. He knows first-hand what it takes to be successful. He wants and expects that same success at Mississippi State.
How will he achieve that success?
1) Make sure his players and coaches do the smallest of details, 2) have a discipline team and the most important of all, 3) recruit, recruit and recruit.
We all know by now the importance Coach Croom places on doing the little things and having a discipline team. He has been harping on both since the day he arrived on the campus of Mississippi State. The past three games - two that were wins and one that was a loss that wasn't decided until midway in the fourth quarter - proves that his team has bought into his system.
However, to take it to the next level, a program has to have talent, a lot of talent. Coach Croom knows that better than anyone. All you have to do is be at one of his press conferences to know that. Every chance he gets he mentions recruiting.
I've been around two men who I feel are two of the greatest recruiters in the nation, MSU head men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury and MSU men's cross country head coach and assistant track coach Steve Dudley. While both are great coaches, they both know the importance of recruiting. That's why both have such exceptional programs. Both programs, especially Stansbury's, are where Coach Croom's program will be in a few years.
And for both men, it all started with recruiting. They are both consumed with recruiting the best of the best, not only recruiting them but signing them.
That's why Coach Croom is recruiting players that are national top-100 type variety, players such as the Josh McNeils, Ndamukong Suhs, Marlon Luckys and others similar in talent. While you can compete with good players, you have to have the great players to take it to the next level, the national championship level.
And like Coach Croom said, "It is going to happen."
This past Saturday I had the good fortune of attending the first half of the men's exhibition game against the University of PanAmericana. While the game itself was a chance for the MSU fans to see the team in action against somebody other than themselves, the most important event was the players and coaches receiving their SEC Championship rings.
And it all started with recruiting. You want to compete against the Kentuckys, you have to match them with players, players such as the Lawrence Roberts of the world.
But it takes time. It took Rick Stansbury four years before his program went to the NCAA Tournament. Since then, they have been to it three straight times. Also during those three years, his program has won 1 SEC Championship (2003-2004), 1 SEC Tournament Championship (2001-2002) and two SEC West Championships (2002-2003, 2003-2004). And this year they are picked 1st or 2nd in the SEC by just about every preseason poll.
Coach Stansbury has proven that you can do it at Mississippi State. Coach Croom will prove it in football.
Since we are on the subject of recruiting, look for the MSU baseball program to have an outstanding recruiting year based on their early commitments. So far, MSU, among their commitments to date, has commitments from three of the top players in the nation. All three are possible high draft picks, but MSU has a good chance of keeping all three due to the importance they place on academics and the fact that MSU is considered a tough program to compete with when it comes to the signability of the players they sign.
The MSU men's golf team showed improvement this fall compared to last fall, placing 3rd, 6th, 6th and 12th in four tournaments. Last fall, the team placed 5th, 6th, 8th and 13th.
The improvement seems to have caught the attention of a couple of the nation's best prospects. Two top-50 high school seniors are expected to sign with the Bulldogs during the early signing period, Oak Grove (MS) High Schooler Matt Fast and Noah Goldman of Lake Mary High School in Longwood, Florida. Both should have an immediate impact next year.
The soccer team, under first-year head coach Neil Macdonald, finished the regular season 9-8-3 and their SEC schedule 5-5-1. After losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, they await word today to see if they made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
The SEC record is the 2nd best record in school history. With the nine victories, Coach Macdonald became the winningest first-year coach in MSU history.
First-year head coach Tina Seals has turned the fortunes of the MSU women's volleyball team around. After winning just 13 games the past two years combined, the volleyball team has won 13 games this year with two games yet to be played. They have also won 4 SEC games, the highest total since they won 5 in 1998. With two SEC games remaining, they could either equal or surpass that number.
With one senior on the squad, expect continued improvement next season.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.