The Mississippi State football season has come and gone. While most MSU fans will now turn their attention to what they hope is a deep run in the NCAA basketball tournament - even the possibility of a Final Four appearance - let's take a quick look at football one more time, including the positives that we saw from this year's team.
I know what you are thinking, MSU won 3 and lost 8. What's positive about that?
The positives included a new attitude on and off the field and a difference in their play on the field. There was no quitting from this team. Oh, they had two lopsided losses against Auburn and LSU early in the season. They even suffered an embarrassing loss to Maine. Last year's Bulldog team probably would have thrown in the towel. Not this team. They kept listening, learning and playing hard. Then, their efforts started paying off, eventually earning them consecutive SEC victories over Florida and Kentucky and close losses to Alabama and Arkansas. Even in their season-ending 20-3 loss to Ole Miss, they didn't quit. They kept trying to the very end.
Another positive was the attitude of Coach Croom himself.
When his team lost to Arkansas on MSU's Senior Day, he stopped his players as they were about to walk into the locker room and told them to look back at the scoreboard. He said that was the last time a senior class of his would lose their last home game of the season. They had worked too hard to walk off Scott Field for the last time with a loss.
And what I saw from Coach Croom as he walked off the field after the Ole Miss loss and heard in his voice during the Ole Miss post-game press conference showed that he is more determined than ever to fix a program that had hit rock bottom.
The brief look in the stands he gave as he walked toward the tunnel exit was not only a look of disgust over another tough loss, but one that made me believe he was looking around at the Ole Miss fans to make sure he registered in his memory bank the look on their faces as they were celebrating their victory while also taunting his players as they walked into the tunnel.
As for his post-game press conference, he was short and direct with almost all his answers. This was a man who you could tell was ready to get this one last press conference out of the way so that he could start doing the one thing that will do more to improve his program than anything else, recruit.
Oh, there is more to improving a program than just recruiting. There's also the work players put in during the off-season. And as Coach Croom has told his players, this off-season will be the toughest one that any of them have ever gone through. There's also coaching and teaching the players. But the bottom line is no matter how hard you work in the off-season or how good you coach your players, it still takes talent to win. And recruiting is the only way to bring in that talent.
That's probably why, when I asked him when he would be on the road recruiting, he quickly said, "tomorrow morning." And he emphasized it even more by saying that he would be on the recruiting trail every day that the NCAA will allow him to be on it over the course of the next two months.
I have been around two coaches that I feel are two of the best recruiters in the business - MSU head basketball coach Rick Stansbury and MSU track coach Steve Dudley. There is no reason to believe that I won't be adding Sylvester Croom's name to that select group in the very near future. And don't let those last 17 years coaching in the NFL fool you. While NFL coaches don't have to recruit, this man knows the importance of recruiting, and knows it in a big way.
Every chance he gets to talk recruiting with the media he takes it. It doesn't matter if it is a pre-game press conference, a post-game press conference, a radio talk show or even his television and radio shows, he never fails to bring up the subject of recruiting when the opportunity presents itself. There is no doubt in my mind that he wants every prospect that reads newspapers, watches television, listens to the radio or reads the internet to know that there is a place for them on the Mississippi State football team. He also wants them to know exactly what will be expected of them and what they can expect in return.
What are his expectations? I'll let Coach Croom say it in his own words.
"I want the kids who come to Mississippi State to expect to wear championship rings....I want guys in our program (who) not only want to win championships, but who are dedicated enough to make the sacrifices to win championships."
And there is no doubt in my mind that he and they will both achieve that championship goal. The only question is when.
Speaking of recruiting, the latest issue of Baseball America had a list of the top 100 prep baseball players and what colleges they selected. The SEC had commitments from 26 of the 82 that were committed. Surprisedly, Vanderbilt was the co-leader, along with Georgia, with four. LSU, Alabama, Auburn and Florida had three, while South Carolina and Arkansas had two. Mississippi State and Kentucky had one apiece. Ole Miss and Tennessee had no top 100 commitments.
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