Scott Haynes, College Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Forget the fact that Mississippi State
finished the season at 2-10, securing its third straight last-place finish in
the SEC Western Division. Forget that longtime coach Jackie Sherrill has
recently retired. Forget the fact that the SEC has never had a black head
football coach. The simple fact of the matter is, that the MSU brass has done
its job in handling its vacancy at the top of the football program and it will
be a better team and university because of it.
Green Bay Packers' assistant Sylvester Croom has accepted the job as head
football coach this week. Yes, his hiring will go a long way in assuaging the
rift between black activists and the SEC, but more importantly, the Bulldogs
got the right man for the job.
When Notre Dame made Tyrone Willingham their coach, I agreed wholeheartedly
that he was the right choice, not because of his skin color, but more because
of his resume and ability to do the job.
MSU's Sylvester Croom
The same is the case in Starkville.
Croom has as good a pedigree as anybody out there and his ties to the SEC put
him over the top. When Alabama didn't make him its choice at the beginning of
this season, I was a little shocked. I mean, the Tuscaloosa native was only an
All-American center under Bear Bryant in the '70s, returning to the school and
his mentor to serve on the coaching staff through the mid '80s. Croom spent 11
years coaching at the college level at Alabama, helping his alma mater to
back-to-back national championships in 1978 and 1979. As a player he earned
all-SEC and all-America honors following his senior season in 1975. He was the
starting center on Alabama's 1973 national title team. So why did Alabama snub
him when he was probably the most qualified to do the job?
That's a different topic for another column.
Back on point, Croom has been in the NFL for the last 17 years, usually being
a key instrument in improving offenses such as Tampa Bay, Indianapolis,
Detroit and Green Bay. Of course, his stint in Detroit was aided by the
presence of Barry Sanders, but perhaps Croom aided Sanders as well.
For the last three years, he has done it again in Green Bay, as he has revived
a stagnant rushing attack, helping Ahman Green become a perennial pro-bowler.
What he brings to the table for MSU is obvious. The Bulldogs have been
horrific on the offensive side of the football for a while now and that should
change immediately with Croom's arrival.
This year, the Bulldogs managed just 320.7 yards of total offense per game,
neither thriving on the ground (118.7 ypg) nor through the air (202.0 ypg).
Those numbers should improve significantly under Croom, who knows a thing or
two about moving the chains.
Mississippi State has wallowed in SEC mediocrity for some time now, but that
will change with the Croom Era.
It is a great thing for the SEC, a greater thing for the black community as a
whole, but most importantly, the best thing that could have happened to the
players and people involved with Mississippi State. They have gotten a coach
in Croom, who cares more about who is players become, rather than just the
numbers of victories on the field.
In his press conference in Starkville, that was apparent. "The reason a lot
of you are here is because of me, because of my cultural heritage, which I am
proud of. At the same time it is not about me, it's about these young men that
are standing over to my right and that's why I'm here." He went on to say, "My
job as head football coach is no different than that of the faculty and
everybody else here. It is to be the best that we can to guide these young
people through their time here, so that they can have productive lives, great
families and be productive in their communities."
He carries the banner for black coaches in America right now, but even that is
secondary to his goals for Mississippi State.
"I am the first African-American coach in the SEC, but there ain't but one
color that matters here and that color is maroon."
That kind of attention to what is really important will go a long way in
reviving the Bulldogs from the college football abyss.
The rebuilding process starts now for MSU, and it shouldn't take long before
the SEC elite stand up and take notice.