Croom surfaces as 'Bama candidate

Packers running backs coach Sylvester Croom is a prime candidate to take over as head football coach for the University of Alabama. Croom has experience as a player and assistant coach with the Crimson Tide, but it is uncertain if he is among the University's initial interviews for the job this week.<p>

"There probably isn't a better prospect in all of football, college or pros, for that job than Sylvester Croom," Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman said on Sunday. "I'd hate to lose him because he's such a quality person and coach. I'd hate to lose him, but that's what I'd have to tell him, because that's what I believe. There's no better candidate in my mind. From my outside perspective, I just know what he is and what he's all about and what he would mean to that university."

University of Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore has begun the task of finding a new head football coach for the Crimson Tide to replace Price, who was fired Saturday because of conduct deemed inappropriate while attending a function in Florida last month. Moore acknowledges that this is an "awkward" time to be searching for a new coach. In an early morning press briefing today, Moore did not put limitations on the criteria or on his timetable. He said he wanted the "best fit" and he wants it "as quickly as possible."

Moore indicated he had four interviews planned, but also said that number could change. He also pointed out "You can interview more than one candidate on a trip." He said he hoped to complete the interview process "in the next two or three days."

Moore would not discuss any specific individuals as possible candidates. He reiterated that he hopes to hire a permanent head coach quickly. He also said his first plan is to go outside the current staff. Although he said he would not leave out the possibility of having to fill the vacancy with an interim head coach, he seemed sure that was an unlikely possibility.

Croom, 48, is in his third year as Packers running backs coach. He previously was offensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions for four years, but has never been a head coach at any level. He was Alabama's starting center on its 1973 national-title team and spent 10 years from 1977 to '86 as its linebackers coach.

Prior to Price's hiring last December, Croom was regarded as a possible candidate for the Alabama job. If he is hired by Alabama, Croom would be the first black head coach in Southeastern Conference football history.

The Bama athletics director said he is "working now to find someone in the next few days to lead this program." He said the next Alabama coach would have a "love for this program" and "toughness." A coach with "love of the program" might be one who has been a player or coach for the Crimson Tide.

The list of potential candidates being discussed in the media and public includes a number of those, including former Bama head coaches Ray Perkins (who left Alabama to return to the NFL) and Gene Stallings (who retired after the 1996 season); Richard Williamson and Croom, both of whom were Alabama players and assistant coaches and who are now NFL assistants; Mike Shula, who went from Tide quarterback to NFL assistant (and who many believe was interviewed by Moore and Witt on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale). It is also possible that Moore would talk to South Florida Head Coach Jim Leavitt, who was an impressive candidate when Moore picked Price last December.

Another rumored candidate, Tom Coughlin, former Boston College and Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, told a television station he had not been contacted by Alabama. An early name mentioned by some, former Georgia Coach Jim Donnan, is now believed to be a remote possibility.

Moore said the new coach might come from college – including a current college head coach – or from the NFL. He said he had "not yet" asked any athletics director for permission to speak with a college head coach. He also said that he had received word that certain coaches are interested in being considered. Moore pointed out that just as it is an awkward time for Alabama to be seeking a head coach, it is an awkward time for coaches to be seeking new employment.

Moore also did say that it was preferable that the position be filled by one who is a head coach or who has had head coaching experience but that would not be a requirement. He said he would not comment on whether the coach should have a background in offense as opposed to defense, or vice versa. And he said that while he would consider the current player personnel in trying to find a coach who might continue an offense or defense similar to what fits, that would not be the primary factor.

"I'm looking for someone who I think is a fit for this program," Moore said.

Moore said that he would clear any candidate with the NCAA and that he would talk to many familiar with each candidate before making a decision. He said that Price was "recommended very, very strongly by a lot of people." Moore said Alabama had never employed a private investigator for background checks. He said after the NCAA clearance, he would speak to the employer (for instance athletics director) of the candidate, former employers, men who had been players for the candidate, and coaches who had worked for or with the candidate.

Moore said he wanted to hire a coach for the long term, not just for a year to get through the current problems. And he noted that the next coach will face some "tough times" because of NCAA sanctions. He said he wanted a coach who could "recruit us through" the difficult times, then restore Bama football to national prominence.

Alabama was 10-3 last year. And although Bama was not eligible for a bowl game (and will not be eligible again this year), the Crimson Tide finished ranked 11th in the nation.

Note: Kirk McNair of ' contributed to this article.

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