One-on-One With Coach Croom

Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom talks about recruiting, the pressure to win, winning last year but not this year, the lack of offensive production and making tough decision for the betterment of the Mississippi State football program.

Your first recruiting class was ranked 60th. The next year 39th, followed by another 39th, then 27th, 33rd and this year's class is currently ranked 23rd in the nation. How difficult was it to recruit your first few years at State due to the ramification of the NCAA investigation?
"Difficult wouldn't even be a word to describe it. It was nearly impossible. And it was almost impossible to get a junior college guy because they knew we were not going to be able to go to a bowl game. The first couple of years guys would come in, like the place, like the coaches, but probation was always used against us. And the past history was used against us."

What were people telling the recruits?
"That they couldn't go to a bowl game, they won't be able to turn it around, that Mississippi State has never won. that they can't win a championship."

Did people tell recruits that Mississippi State was going to receive the death penalty?
"We knew what the penalty was, so we explained to them what the penalty was going to be. But other people, yes, they would tell them the penalty was going to be a lot more severe than it was actually going to be.

"But the biggest thing they used against us is that the players would never go to a bowl game and that they would not have a chance to win a conference championship. The other thing that people really hammered on was our past history - that we've never won a conference championship and never would.

"And they really hit us on facilities. At that time, Alabama was in their big building program. LSU's facilities were just huge. Ole Miss had their indoor practice facility at that time and we didn't. Our academic center was in the basement of Hathorn. And it still was as of last year.

"All of those things were used hugely against us. We lost almost two signing classes (due to all those things).

"And early on, because of that, we had to recruit some players that we wouldn't recruit now. We had profiles of each position that we wanted, but we couldn't always live up to those profiles."

When were you able to recruit the kind of players that lived up to your profiles?
"K.J. Wright's class (2006 signing class) was the first year that we were successfully able to do that. Those guys are the sophomores (and redshirt freshmen). That was the first year that we felt like we were able to compete with the upper echelon in the conference and get quality players, guys who could play anywhere in the conference. And we felt like we did that last year. We feel very good about last year's recruiting class. And this class coming up is very critical for the long-term success of the program."

And while you lost two signing classes due to probation, you were also losing players that were currently on your team.
"The reason behind that is the whole idea was to change the attitude, change the mindset. And you couldn't do that without eliminating people. So, we eliminated a lot of people through the process. Basically, we had to start all over. We really rebuilt an SEC institution by starting from ground level.

"But think about this, as much as we were struggling we still went to Tuscaloosa - coaches, players, everybody - expecting to win that football game. That's the attitude change. You go to Tuscaloosa against the number 1 team in the country expecting to win that game. We are down 10 players from who we should have had on this team, but our guys still went over there thinking we were going to win. I know that's not a lot of consolation to a lot of people, but it is to me especially when I think about where we were and how far we have come."

But you still have to win.
"There is no question about that, and I knew that coming in."

You won last year, but you aren't winning this year.
"It's a fine line. We had very few injuries last year, we got a lot of turnovers and we didn't turn the ball over. And we played as close to the vest with the people that we had that gave us a chance to win. But we lost a lot of people last year (that should be on this year's team). I keep saying that, but that's the reality of it. Right now (due to those losses), we are probably, in some ways, back to where we were two years ago."

But it's still better than where you were five years ago.
"Oh, there's no question about that. The change in attitude is huge. And I believe that's the reason we are able to recruit - the prospects know that we are not that far away. Even today, I still believe we are closer to being a top quality program than we were at this point last year."

I know there has been improvement in the overall program, but when you look at the offense it still ranks near the bottom nationally.
"Yes, it is very disappointing."

You said you have changed it, you have tweaked it. What else is there left that you can do?
"I am very disappointed. I am very disappointed that we can't even run the football. I will evaluate everything after the Ole Miss football game. I will make the decisions that will give this program a chance to continue to improve. I came here to win a conference championship. And I am going to do whatever it takes to get us there."

Are there, potentially, some very difficult decisions that you know you will have to make?
"There are always difficult decisions. I have to make difficult decisions every day. And at the end of the season I will evaluate everything. I will look at everything from me all the way down to see what needs to be done to give this program a chance to compete for the conference championship."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.


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