One-on-One With Coach Croom

MSU head coach Sylvester Croom discusses how his program has slowly become one that not only competes with but defeats teams that have more overall talent than his team may have.

How does a Mississippi State football team defeat teams like Auburn and Alabama when those teams, supposedly, have had better recruiting classes than State?
"What we have to do is go out and find our kind of people. That's the first thing. While we recruit a lot of the same guys, particularly in-state, when we go out-of-state we look for specific needs. And we really try to sign guys who we feel like have long-range potential. We aren't looking for the ready-made guy all the time because, the reality of it is, those are the guys who all the top schools are recruiting. And unless they are kids like Derek Sherrod from Mississippi, the likelihood of us getting those guys go down. Once they get out of that four-hour radius, it's going to be harder for us to get those kind of guys."

As you continue to defeat teams like Alabama, Auburn and Florida, won't that change, though, as far as having access to more of those ready-made type guys?
"It will change in time, but I really believe there is a point where, because of the size of our town, because of the size of our school, and because of the way we do things in this program, a lot of guys may not want to come here. We are looking for that guy who believes in the way we work and the way we expect guys to conduct themselves off the field. And there are certain academic standards that we want to have on our football team and we want that to go up each year. So, we have to sign a Mississippi State kind of player. And, if that sometimes means signing a player and giving him a couple of years to develop, then that's what we will do.

"And we are now getting to a point where we are able to do that. Guys like Mike Gates have been playing in our program and playing well, but it's taken them this long to develop. And what we are, hopefully, developing into with this program is the ability to bring in those type guys, and if they are ready to play, we play them. If not, then we can develop them.

"And we have a lot of guys who aren't playing the position that we recruited them at. And it's a long list - Mike Gates, Anthony Strauder, K.J. Wright, Jason Husband, Tim Bailey, Derek Pegues, Keith Fitzhugh, Jeremy Jones, and the list goes on and on. What we do is find athletes and our kind of people and we try to put them in a position that gives us the best chance for success."

After developing them for a couple of years, does that allow you to compete toe-to-toe with the other teams that may bring in the guys that may be ready to play the first year or two they come in? In other words, their guys may be ready immediately or almost immediately, but yours are on an equal footing after a couple of years of development. Then, you simply roll your recruiting classes over and over each year.
"Exactly. That is the idea. Now, we are getting to the point where we were able to redshirt this class. We are able to redshirt guys like Robert Elliott, Jamie Jones ... those kind of guys. When Chaney and Dixon leave here, those guys will be able to step in and play. And, hopefully, we will have brought in guys to replace them.

"But, as we keep winning, our profile will increase and we will also be able to get a higher profile kid. But the first thing will be to always get our kind of person."

Are you also trying to offset the difference in talent not only by developing your players over time, but also by emphasizing attention to detail and being more physically and mentally tougher than the teams you play?
"There is no question about that - the details, the physical and mental toughness, our conditioning and teamwork."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

Gene's Page Top Stories