Croom becomes first black SEC coach

Updated: December 2, 2003, 9:07 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Sylvester Croom became the first black head football coach in Southeastern Conference history, accepting an offer Monday to take over troubled Mississippi State.

"We went after the best football coach and we're confident we found that individual in Sylvester Croom," athletic director Larry Templeton said.

Black Head Football Coaches in Division I-A
Coach, school
Sylvester Croom, Mississippi St.
Karl Dorrell, UCLA
Fitz Hill, San Jose State
Tony Samuel, New Mexico State
Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame

Croom informed Templeton that he would take the job less than 24 hours after Templeton said he had offered it. A news conference will be held Tuesday to introduce him.

Croom, 49, has never been a head coach, but has been an NFL assistant with five teams since 1987 and worked for Bear Bryant and Ray Perkins at Alabama from 1977-86.

The SEC's hiring history came under increased scrutiny earlier this year when Croom was passed over for the top job at his alma mater, Alabama, in favor of Mike Shula, another former Crimson Tide player, who is white.

Every other BCS conference has had at least one black head coach, but a lack of diversity among major college football head coaches is not exclusive to the SEC.

There were only four black head football coaches among 117 Division I-A football schools this season.

"I'm happy to see Mississippi State step up," John Mitchell, a Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach and former teammate of Crooms' at Alabama, told ESPN.com. "I've had some bad views of the state of Mississippi for a long time, since I was growing up. For them to beat Alabama and the rest of the states not only to hire an African-American coach, but someone as qualified as Sylvester Croom, it says a lot for them."

The SEC provided its members lists of potential minority candidates to help promote a more inclusive hiring process.

Alabama was criticized by some, including civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, for not hiring Croom, who had more experience than Shula.

"The issue of opportunities for minority coaches to become head football coaches is an issue for everybody, all the conferences in the country," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "The fact that the SEC has now provided that opportunity makes it an historic day for the conference and for Mississippi State."

Jackson said Croom's hiring is a positive step for the SEC, but the league still is lagging in minority hirings at high-profile positions such as athletic director and university president.

"So while this is a breakthrough, we're really way behind our potential," Jackson said. "But I think Mississippi State, its president and its athletic director deserve congratulations and I extend that to them."

Messages left at Croom's home and office were not immediately returned.

Templeton said that he hoped Croom, who has been coaching running backs at Green Bay since 2001, would be cleared by the Packers to assume his new position immediately.

He replaces retiring coach Jackie Sherrill and inherits a program that has been in a free fall for three years.

The Bulldogs are 8-27 since 2001 with just three SEC victories. They completed a 2-10 season last week, the school's worst since 1988.

"What will help him is he's a guy who's definitely a good disciplinarian and he's very basic in what he wants from his players," Packers running back Ahman Green said of Croom. "And if you do what he asks of his players, you do exactly what he wants, you'll be OK."

Mississippi State is awaiting the results of an NCAA investigation into possible rules violations by the football program from 1998-2002. Templeton said he has discussed the NCAA issues with Croom.

Croom, who played offensive line at Alabama in the early '70s, still has family in his native Tuscaloosa and a daughter and granddaughter living in Mobile, Ala.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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