TIME OUT: Croom, a pioneer in Alabama football

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

As we continue to recognize and celebrate Black History Month, my thoughts are on former University of Alabama All-American, Sylvester Croom.

A little more than forty years ago, the Mississippi State basketball team snuck out of Starkville in order to violate state law and compete against a team with Negro players in the NCAA Tournament.

Croom, an African American, was hired on December 1, 2003, by Mississippi State as their head football coach. He also became the first black head football coach in Southeastern Conference history. Mississippi and the south have come a long ways to recognize a quality coach regardless of the color of his skin. Croom has just completed his third season at the helm at MSU.

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In his three years he has compiled a 9-25 record. His biggest win was against his almamater, Alabama, where he led the Bulldogs to a 24-16 victory over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa this past season.

Croom played center on Alabama’s offensive line for the great Paul &8216;Bear’ Bryant 1972-1974. He was captain in his senior year.

The Tuscaloosa native played on season in the National Football League before returning to the University of Alabama to begin his coaching career. He was an assistant for 11 years, mainly as the inside and outside linebackers coach. During this eleven-year period on the Alabama staff Croom participated in ten bowl games, two national championships in 1978 and 1979, and he tutored four eventual NFL first-round draft picks, including Cornelius Bennett and the late Derrick Thomas.

He was in the running for the position of Alabama head coach in 2003, but the job ultimately went to Mike Shula. In March 2004, Alabama’s Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award, given annually for 16 years to outstanding players, was changed to the Bart Starr Commitment to Excellence Award, reportedly at Shula’s request. The award has since been changed back and has Croom’s name attached. Shula originally changed the award because he did not want an award named for a rival coach. After complaints by alumni and fans,

the award was changed back to its original name.

The 52-year-old coach has the distinction of being one of only three black Division 1-A college football coaches.Tyrone Willingham of Washington and Karl Dorrell at UCLA are the other African American coaches of the more than 100 Div. 1-A schools.

Croom had been an NFL assistant coach with five teams since 1987. He had been coaching the green Bay Packers running backs since 2001 when he was hired by MSU.

See you on the hardwood.

James Gilmore is the sports editor of The Demopolis Times. He can be reached by e-mail to james.gilmore@demopolistimes.com.