31 Flavors of Football: Croom’s Legacy

To help you and me get through the drudgery of August, I will present in this space a daily scoop of MSU football-ness, as inspired by a certain ice cream chain. August has 31 days, so I’ll let you work it out from there. Here is today’s flavor.

–––––

Sylvester Croom will forever be a historic figure in both SEC and Mississippi State lore. That does not mean he is a beloved figure. But I do believe, on the whole, he is a respected figure.

Croom, of course, became the first black head football coach in SEC history when State hired him prior to the 2004 season. It was a big step forward for the league and its relatively new commissioner, Mike Slive, who was seeking ways to diversify the conference’s coaching ranks. The fact that it happened at a Mississippi school made it an even bigger deal.

On the field, things didn’t go so well. In five seasons, Croom posted a 21-38 record with one winning season, in 2007. The Bulldogs were 8-5 and won the Liberty Bowl that year, engendering fairly high expectations for 2008. It all fell apart, with MSU going 4-8 and Croom being shown the door.

There are mixed feelings among MSU fans regarding Croom. I believe most have great respect for him as a person and for what he did to run a clean program as MSU got out from under the shadow of NCAA probation. But the lack of winning and the often incompetent offensive play drove fans mad. Then-athletics director Greg Byrne felt it was time to move on, so he did.

The Croom era was frustrating for MSU fans, but it’s also something they should be proud of. I could have missed something, but I never noticed a hint of racism toward Croom from the fans while he was there, nor have I since. Larry Templeton, the man who hired him, said Croom got the job because he was the best man for it. Byrne sent him packing because it turned out Croom couldn’t win.

Race was ultimately not a factor in either his hiring or firing. He just couldn’t get the job done on the field as quickly as most people would’ve liked, so Croom had to go. That’s the way it is in the SEC. He was treated just like any other SEC coach, and that as much as anything is a sure sign of progress. Turns out, we Mississippians aren’t a bunch of backward bigots. Imagine that.