"The main thing is talking to the team, getting in front of them that they know where we're headed," Felker said.
But of course the main event to the players was hearing from Croom, whose resignation was announced the Saturday morning after the 2008 season concluded. Felker was the only staff member who spoke afterwards with media, and players were not made available though selected comments were to be provided by the Media Relations office.
"It wasn't as emotional as you might think," said Felker. "I'm sure a lot of players were disappointed. And Coach Croom was very professional in what he said and how he did it. He did it with a lot of class which is the way he's lived his life. He not only taught the game of football but he taught a lot of important lessons about life that will carry on the rest of t heir career here and ten, 15 years from now."
"Coach Croom in my opinion has always been a great motivator. Even a 55-year-old guy like me gets motivated by things that he's said to the team at different times. And I've seen him shed a tear every once in a while. But nothing was noticeable today, it was really just coming from his heart and where he wanted them to continue on and keep striving for the goals that were the reason they came to Mississippi State."
Croom was seen driving away from the Shira Complex not long after the 2:00 meeting. So the balance of the session was left to Felker, who has experienced coaching transitions as a player, assistant, and head coach. "I relayed back in my days when I played for two head coaches here, (Charley) Shira and (Bob) Tyler," he said. "That it happens and very few guys have the opportunity to play for the same coach all four or five years. Of course I still remember talking to the team the final time after the 1990 season, the look on their faces and how I guess some of them might have been disappointed I was leaving! A month later they had Coach Sherrill here and things turned around and they ended up having a lot of success.
"So the program is in a lot better shape right now than it was five years ago, we had some good recruiting classes in that group and some good potential leaders. I made that point to them also."
The point Mississippi State most wants to make this week is to recruits, both those publicly committed to the program while Croom was in charge and those yet to make the informal announcements. And a number of these were expected to transfer in for the spring semester, either junior college players eligible to sign starting December 17 or some prep players able to enroll for January.
Felker reported that State's staff—all of whom remain on their contracts and thus working at their usual off-season tasks until the new coach is named—has been contacting prospects since the resignation. "We're talking to them and letting them know what's going on. That's the main focus we have right now," Felker said. "I'd say most of the response has been very positive. I think everybody's been in a little bit of a shock in terms of they didn't expect this situation to come up.
"But the thing that I have noticed is there is a strong bond among the commitments that we do have, and they really like this place, they like Mississippi State, they feel comfortable here. And they're going to hang on and wait and see who our next coach is going to be, meet that guy. That's what they're anxious for, so they're still hanging in there with us."
Felker also expects the current Bulldogs, varsity and redshirts, to hang with the program they signed-on with. One, senior linebacker Jamar Chaney, confirmed through Media Relations that the coaching change will not alter his intent to return for a 2009 season. His senior year ended in the opening game with a broken ankle.
The Bulldogs also got a good report on wide receiver Brandon McRae, who snapped a lower leg gone during Friday's season-finale. The first operation was performed before that day was out, and Monday a follow-up to assure no infections or after effects was completed. McRae is to be released Tuesday.
So while Croom's assistants—two of whom, coordinator Woody McCorvey and receivers coach Pat Washington, declined comment—start thinking about their futures, Mississippi State players will be taking care of final exams, getting their off-season instructions, and wait for word on who will be the boss in 2009. Felker said the Bulldogs are handling the situation well. "They realize it's a transition time right now and soon we'll have a coach on board and things will get back to normal," he said.
"There's a lot of optimism. I think our young players are excited about the future. They came here with a purpose and they're excited about being leaders and this being their football team now. We've got some strong (points), particularly in the freshman and sophomore classes out of this group. So they're excited about the future."