Vaught's Views: Croom making big changes at MSU

July 29, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

HOOVER, Ala. - If first impressions are important, then new Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom is going to be successful.

He may also have made Alabama fans wish even more that the Crimson Tide had not passed over him two years ago when the school picked David Shula over him as head football coach.

Croom was firm and poised at his first Southeastern Conference Football Media Days here Wednesday. He had points to make, and made them. He never got flustered. He didn't try to be funny, preferring a more business-like approach.

He also made sure that he was treated like any other coach and not the first African-American head football coach in the SEC.


Any reflections on being the first African-American coach to stand at the Media Days podium?

"Nope," said Croom.

That was it. One word and done.

Of course, that's the same approach he's going to take when the NCAA finally announces what sanctions it will give the Bulldogs because of transgressions under former coach Jackie Sherrill.

"I'll make one statement and then not answer any more questions," Croom said.

Croom, a former Alabama player under coach Paul Bryant, knows what he wants to do. He became an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers to enhance his knowledge of the West Coast offense.

"The only way to learn it is to be inside the system," Croom said. "I knew the only way to learn was to go there because the guys that know how to run it don't tell anyone else."

His idea of discipline is far different from Sherrill's

Croom's players didn't need long to know his idea of discipline was far different from Sherrill's. At the first team meeting, some players arrived late. One even was writing during Croom's talk.

"We got that straightened out quickly," Croom said. "Players being late is disrespectful of others because everyone's time is valuable."

His time certainly is. Because of an extraordinary number of interview requests, Croom takes work home with him. He normally sleeps from about 6-9 p.m. at home and then works until 3 a.m. before getting a few more hours of sleep before heading back to the office.

"I do my football work at home. Don't feel sorry for me. That's what it takes to get the job done," Croom said.

Want more? Players must submit a copy of their off-campus living arrangement to Croom so he'll know where they are and how to find them. He also made players understand attendance was mandatory at class and tutoring sessions.

"I do not want any Mississippi State player that plays four years for us not capable of providing for his family," Croom said. "I want to see them graduate and get jobs."

Even though his team lacks depth, Croom was not bashful about getting rid of players who didn't want to adhere to his discipline.

"If you don't change for the better, he will get rid of you," Mississippi State defensive lineman Ronald Fields said. "He's going to give everyone an equal opportunity. It doesn't matter if you are a walk-on player. If you are good enough to play, you are going to play.

"It's not the same way it has been at Mississippi State the last three years where everybody was doing their own thing and we didn't go anywhere."

His emergence could impact UK

Croom's emergence could have an impact on Kentucky. The Wildcats play at State Oct. 30. Last year the Cats got one of their four wins in a 42-17 victory against State.

If Croom's players buy into his system and have some early success, the game at State could be much more difficult for UK to win than it looked like it might be at the end of last season when the Bulldogs were in disarray.

"Everything he does is about us," Fields said. "He talks about how hard we work. He talks about us all the time. He's helping us every day and he makes you want to do well for him. I already believe we are going to be a better team."

Even with the tougher discipline?

"Discipline is not a bad word to me. It's just about doing things right and that's what we are going to do. If you do, then you get better," Croom said.

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