Still Croom had a lot to talk about at the Bryan Building Wednesday afternoon. He also had some strong statements about the recruiting process this year, both positive and negative. The complete transcrip, in order, follows.
Opening Statement: "I'm sorry we're late, we were trying to wait on some more information so we could be definitive and finalized in our information. At this point that won't happen until some time later, hopefully.
"But we're pleased with where our recruiting is right now. We signed some guys, we satisfied our needs in particular. And I feel good about what our coaches have done, we were able to maintain our staff through the course of this year and that was one of the most pleasing things in the recruiting process. I thought our guys did an excellent job, too, as far as evaluating talent, and getting the kind of players we wanted in our program and satisfying our needs.
"The biggest thing is we satisfied our need at wide receiver going into this recruiting class, that was our primary objective, to get some wide receivers in here and get some depth at running back. We did that, we think we'll get some immediate help in those two positions. We also got a couple of junior college players, four in fact, that we think will give immediate help. They're good players, they're good people, academically they're sound. They will be a great help to us as we go into the season, their maturity and leadership will play a big, big role in the success of our football team this season.
"Overall, as I said earlier, the wide receiver position, the running back position, were the key ones. I thought we improved our depth at linebacker. And definitely the other area we wanted to concentrate on is our defensive line, since we have three seniors. Defensive tackle next year was a high priority as well and I thought we got that taken care of.
"Team speed was the other area we wanted to improve and I think we did that, particularly at the wide receiver and secondary position. We got some guys back, particularly Anthony Johnson who we sent off to Hargrave (Military Academy), who we thought was an outstanding player in last year's class. He's back now and I think he'll be a great asset to us in our secondary, and in our return game and our coverage aspect as well.
"Of course you're never totally satisfied as far as we lost some guys in-state. The other two schools in-state, we battled hard with Southern (Mississippi) and Ole Miss, that's always going to be the case. And I've learned a lot of things, I'm constantly learning a lot of things in recruiting here. Some things will change in our recruiting process as we go through next year. We had a lot of players out-of-state that were really, really interested in coming to Mississippi State. We gave priority to our in-state kids this year, and we missed a couple at the end. So I'm going to re-evaluate that as we go into next year.
"But, overall I'm very pleased with the immediate impact of the wide receivers and the running backs coming in. I felt like if nothing else with those guys we're going to be a lot better. But everywhere else we improved ourselves and I'm looking forward to spring practice and next year and excited about getting these guys on campus."
Who in this class could be a surprise player?: "There's a couple of guys. The first one that comes to mind that probably a lot of people don't know about is the linebacker Jamon Hughes. Another one is (tight end) Brandon Henderson, son of Keith Henderson that used to play at Georgia. Those guys are very, very good athletes, they didn't get a lot of publicity, but they are very good football players. Those are the first two that come to mind."
How much does your opinion of the running back signees depend on that last signing? "I'll be very excited. I'm pleased with the two guys that already are here in the class. What disappoints me more than anything else when you lose a guy you thought was coming is the fact that you told somebody else who wanted to come that you didn't have a spot for them because you were holding a spot that you thought was filled. That's one of the things that I have to do a better job in. "And I'll admit, I probably trust people too much. At 51-years-old I'm still learning that our society has changed and a lot of people's words mean absolutely nothing. And so I'm going to have to get with the program."
Is that what you meant by re-evaluating the process? "Yes. From now on, in my mind, a commitment means you are going where you're going and you're not visiting anywhere else. And you tell everybody in the world that's where I'm going and the visits are over. Otherwise as far as I'm concerned it's not a commitment.
"One of the things in our program and our process, when we put our word out there, when I put my name out there, when I put my name on a letter-of-intent or offer a scholarship, we honor what we put out there. That's why our evaluation process is a lot slower than other people's. I understand there are some schools who got announcements on prospects today, there's no way that you can thoroughly evaluate, take care of the players that you have, recruit from one year, and then offer 100-150 scholarships that you don't have available and do a proper job on that; and still honor all those commitments when that time comes. I won't do it that way, because I won't put my word out there and have to back up on it.
"But at the same time I expect the same thing from the people that we recruit, the high school coaches, the parents, and the people we deal with in the schools. If I'm going to be good on my word I expect them to be good at their's."
Who do you expect immediate help from? "All our junior college players I expect to come in and start. The two receives, J.D. Hamilton at offensive tackle, and Timmy Bailey at linebacker, I expect those guys to come in and start and play for us immediately. The two running backs that we have, they're going to play. That's a position I feel good about, I have no concerns about playing a freshman running back. In this conference I think it's pretty hard for a lot of positions to play, we found that out and we knew that last year when we played all those freshman offensive linemen. The good thing about that, they're not freshmen any more now. I'm excited about that, going into next season and really for the next three years our offensive line is going to be one of our deepest areas.
"But those four junior college players will be a big, big asset to us. I think Jamon Hughes and Brandon Henderson will possibly make an immediate contribution just because of their athleticism."
You talked about speed, do these players bring that? "Yes, the receivers and running backs we brought in fit more of what I feel the prototype for that position. Both the (junior college )receivers are over 6-3 and 200 pounds, and then is a high school player Keith Mills who sustained an injury a few weeks ago but he'll be well. He's 6-3, 200, and has an excellent vertical jump. I expect him to be 215 pounds this time next year."
How hard is it to bring in a career running back as a wide receiver? "Well, we watched Alex Carpenter in our camp this summer, he showed very good speed, excellent hands. He comes from a small program, it may take him some time to develop. But he has all the raw skills to be an outstanding receiver. And I just really like that young man, I think he makes plays. He really stands out and just about every game he played he breaks a touchdown, does something in the kicking game. He just makes plays, and he definitely has excellent skill at the wide receiver position."
How much impact with the offensive line signees have? "J.D. Hamilton will definitely make a huge impact. We'll see about the other guy. Right now we're in a situation, and this is something I hope we can continue, we want those guys to come in and have a chance to develop. Hopefully now we'll be able to bring them along at their own pace rather than just throwing them in the fire like we did those guys last year. And it wasn't fair to the young men last year, we just had to play them. Early in the season they definitely weren't ready to play, but the experience they gained—particularly Calvin Wilson and Michael Gates—will be invaluable this year. But hopefully this was the last time we have to do that by sheer necessity."
What do you expect Tony Burks to do in spring? "He's already here, I was over in the weightroom the other day and talking with Mike Henig, I saw Tony working out. Of course we can't work the players now but I told Mike I wanted him to get those guys out there and start throwing…they already had started! That's the big difference right there, Tony is mature, he has excellent work habits, he's a leader, his skills are obvious. But the maturity, the age factor are huge. Of course the size is huge, Mike loves his size already and is very impressed with how he catches the ball and runs routes. They're already out there throwing whereas this time last year it was very difficult to get them to do that. But at the conclusion of workouts every day they're out there throwing, which signifies a change in attitude and realization that a lot has to be done on their own in order for us to have a chance to be a championship football team."
About recruiting Mississippi this year: "The main thing is we're going to be open to guys that want to come to Mississippi State. We're not going to be guys to come. And I'm going to say this, I know to some of our fans it might be heresy: I want players in Mississippi to go to school in Mississippi, whether they be Bulldogs or not I want them to go to school in Mississippi. It is time. And a lot of it is still the attitude that everything outside of Mississippi is better than what's in Mississippi. That's got to change. It's at the high school level, it's at the college level. The realization is there are a couple of schools outside this state that cannot survive and be champions without Mississippi players. I know that for a fact. And we have to understand that, our high school coaches have to understand that, our families in this state have to understand that. We still have a huge inferiority complex about everything Mississippi, and it's time to take pride in Mississippi in every facet."
Where do the three defensive backs signees project? "In my thinking all three can play corner. But Anthony Summers wants to play safety. So we're going to play him at safety. He is a great athlete, he could play quarterback, wide receiver, on the corner. I tried to tell him if you play on the corner there are very few guys like you in the NFL. He said Coach, I want to play safety. I said you're a safety, that's the end of that discussion! We're glad to have him here, I think he's going to be an outstanding player, and we need to have him there because his size, his speed, he has the feet of a corner, the height of a safety, and the range you want. He can be like a centerfielder back there. Playing teams with spread offenses, now we'll have a guy playing inside when they put four wide receivers out there that can cover the inside people one-on-one. Just like a corner, yet he is a tremendous hitter when he comes up against the running game. He's an outstanding athlete, and very mature."
Did you think to have a signing class without a quarterback? "Ahhh, no! Probably be the last time! But I feel very good about where we are with our quarterbacks. I feel good about Mike, we've got Omarr Conner coming back. And I'll say this, we moved Omarr to wide receiver and he's doing very well, he gives us the best chance. But I still believe had we had more help at the wide receiver position Omarr would have been a lot more effective. So I feel like going into the spring that Mike is our starter, today if we had to play Omarr is our backup at quarterback. But we've got two other guys, Tray Rutland and Ty Evans, that from what we saw I fall those guys will fight it out to see who is the third and fourth guy.
We feel good there, but recruiting a quarterback will be a high priority. We'll sign definitely one and probably two next year, and we're going to recruit every one in the country that's a very good football player. Everybody in the country that is a good quarterback will have a chance to tell us ‘no', yea-or-nay we're going to contact every single one of them."
Was the academics better in Mississippi this year? "I thought it was better this year, no question it was better this year. No doubt about it, we had less academic problems—a lot less—than we did the previous two classes."
Are there any academic questions in this class? "I won't say who they are but here are two guys in the class that we will probably place in junior college."
Was signing six defensive linemen the plan or were they just available this year? "It was one of those deals, between the offensive line and defensive line we'll probably sign 10-to-11 each year. This year because of the number of offensive linemen we signed last year it favored more towards defense. And if in a given in a year we have to slide one way or the other we'll always favor the defense, because usually those guys can be converted to offensive linemen if need be, whereas it's pretty hard to go the other way."
Besides the last guy, is there any chance of signing someone else? "After the situation we had with Jamar Chaney last year, we quite often will look-and-see. I'm sure there will be some schools that over-sign and you just never know. Even with our visits, we will hold one or two every year just in case we need them in June and July. You never know.
"We didn't want to waste any visits with bringing guys that were not legitimately interested in us. There were several kids, in fact five or six more, we could have brought in. But this is what I meant by changes; we did not bring those guys in because it would have jeopardized on their part scholarships somewhere else, and I couldn't tell them for sure at the time they would have a scholarship here. That's why they didn't come. And the thing that was difficult, there were a couple of kids in Los Angeles I really, really liked that would have committed without a visit, but we were holding scholarships for somebody else. Next time that won't happen, I can assure you that. If they want them, they've got them."
You said a couple of years ago your first class was a learning process. "Well, it is. And this one was a learning process in human nature. I guess even at 51-years-old I've got a lot to learn about people. I'm living in a different generation than when I came along, and the difference in how young people react and their parents react, the idea of your word meaning something, maybe I'm a little bit of an old-fashioned guy. Now, I'm not going to change as far as how I believe and my word will always mean something. But we'll take a little bit more of a ‘business' approach to it."
If somebody wavers on a decision, then comes here, would that cause any animosity? "No, that wouldn't be any animosity towards them. I can understand those type of things. It's the guy that tells you… I would be disappointed and would have some question, but once it's done business is business and you move on."
You probably opened some eyes by signing a deep snapper. "Oh, yes. Russell Cook is one of the best deep-snappers around, he'll be a senior this year. We saw a young man out there who is as good if not better than Russell and I'm not waiting to next year to see if there is one. He was interested in coming here, we've got on campus now and our deep-snapping should be taken care of for some time. He is an excellent deep-snapper, and he can play other positions. We're going to start him out as a linebacker and maybe look at him at fullback. I've got to look at that and see where is the least-likely chance of getting his right hand hurt!"