Mississippi State, Croom Part Ways

The morning after his fifth season with Mississippi State concluded, Sylvester Croom announced his resignation as head football coach, effective immediately. The announcement was made through the athletic media relations office today, as Croom chose not speak directly with reporters. He informed his players Saturday morning.

"Five years ago, Mississippi State gave me the unprecedented opportunity to be a head coach in the Southeastern Conference and to build a program based on a strong foundation," Croom said in the official statement. "I want to thank Dr. Charles Lee and Larry Templeton for the opportunity. I also want to thank the assistant coaches and all the players who had faith and trust in me. We have tried to build a program the right way that can compete for conference championships. I believe the foundation has been set for those goals to be reached under the leadership of someone else, and it was my decision to resign."

Athletics director Greg Byrne released his own statement, confirming that he and Croom had talked Friday following State's loss in the Egg Bowl. "As we have said was our intention throughout this year, Coach Croom and I met to discuss the football program. And many topics were addressed, including resignation. I want to thank Coach Croom for the leadership he has provided our football program over the last five years."

The search for Mississippi State's next football head coach will begin immediately. Byrne, named athletics director last March, will be conducting his second high-profile sport search of 2008. In June he hired former MSU player and Kentucky coach John Cohen to take over the baseball program following the resignation of Ron Polk.

All of Croom's current aides remain under contract and will continue in their duties until the new head coach is hired. Coordinators Woody McCorvey and Charlie Harbison each have one year left on their two-year contracts, while other assistants were on one-year contracts.

Croom, an All-American center at Alabama and longtime assistant coach at his alma mater, spent 17 seasons as an aide in the NFL. His hiring by Mississippi State in December 2003 made headlines nationally as Croom became the first African-American head football coach in the Southeastern Conference. It was Croom's first head coaching position.

He also knowingly took over a program coming off three-straight losing seasons and facing NCAA sanctions for violations during the tenure of Jackie Sherrill (1991-2003). Those penalties were announced during the 2004 season, Croom's first campaign. When State came off sanctions—though remaining under probation until this fall—Croom's full contract went in force. He received an extension from then A.D. Templeton after the 2007 Bulldogs went 7-5, 4-4 SEC, and earned the program's first bowl berth since 2000. The Bulldogs defeated Central Florida in the 2007 Liberty Bowl. This past spring new A.D. Byrne gave Croom and staff raises as planned.

But the 2008 Bulldogs struggled to a 4-8 record and 2-6 conference mark. This left Croom with a 21-38 overall record. Spring suspensions and dismissals got the season off to a problematic start, and an upset loss at Louisiana Tech followed by a 3-2 home defeat to Auburn negated much of the public good will wrought in the previous season.

As much as the losses, continued offensive frustrations dogged State and the staff. The '08 Bulldogs ranked at or near the bottom of the conference in scoring and yardage for another season. Croom and the offensive staff were showing gradual adjustments to their offensive approach this season, based on both available personnel and the lack of an experienced blocking that made their pro-style approach unproductive. During the season Croom indicated shifts towards more current college schemes based on the roster he had and the talent being recruited.

According to Scout.com, the publicly-committed prospects make up the 23rd-best recruiting class in the country. How the committed, and still-courted prospects, respond to the resignation can only be judged by their reactions in days and weeks to come. Croom had stated he hoped to sign up to six junior college transfers in the December period, as well as bring in three to four freshmen for the spring semester who would be signed in February.

Mid-year transfer signings can begin December 17, and will be the task of the next head Bulldog coach. He will be the latest ‘new' face Mississippi State will be presenting to the public, joining A.D. Byrne and incoming University president Mark Keenum.

"I have great respect for Coach Croom and his decision," Keenum said. "He took over our football program during a difficult time and accepted the challenge head-on. From that first day until today, he performed his duties with great class and the highest integrity that is reflective of the character of this fine man. I join the entire Mississippi State family in thanking Coach Croom for his service to our university and wishing him the best in his future endeavors.

"Looking forward, I plan to work closely with Athletic Director Greg Byrne to move quickly, but with due deliberation, to find a new head football coach with high energy and a commitment to compete for championships and bowl opportunities in the best conference in America."

Byrne was to meet with media only at 3:00 Saturday. No public press conference was planned.

Gene's Page Top Stories