Croom's spring award renamed for Bart Starr

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- One of Alabama's spring practice awards -- the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award -- went mostly unnoticed for 16 years, but it's getting plenty of attention now that coach Mike Shula has changed the name.

Shula renamed the award, one of 15 presented annually to Crimson Tide players at the team's spring game, after former Alabama quarterback Bart Starr because Croom is now coaching at rival Mississippi State.

The decision caught Croom by surprise.

"I'm thoroughly disappointed that they chose to remove my name from an award that meant a lot to me because of the career I had at Alabama as a player," Croom, an All-American center at Alabama, told the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. "To remove my name from that award because I achieved success in my coaching career is disappointing to me.

"I find it hard to believe that coach [Bear] Bryant would have ever done something like that."

Shula and Croom, both former Tide players, were finalists for Alabama's coaching job last May. Croom later became the Southeastern Conference's first black head football coach when the Bulldogs hired him to replace Jackie Sherrill at the end of last season.

"Coach Shula and the staff did not want to name a spring award after a current coach in the Southeastern Conference," Tide media relations director Larry White said. "On the surface, I don't think you'd have any argument with that. But this thing has sprouted legs and taken off.

"Neither Mike nor the staff did anything intentional to slight anyone or hurt anybody. But when you make decisions, there are secondary repercussions sometimes."

Shula and his staff are on an annual fund-raising Caribbean cruise this week and he couldn't be reached.

Johnny Davis, who played with Croom at Alabama, criticized the move.

"You take the black guy's name off it and give it to Bart Starr?" the former Tide fullback said. "Should a [former] player buy the award or earn it? Whatever they're doing, it's sending a bad message to the community and to the recruits."

Former Tide player Byron Braggs had this advice for Shula: "If you want to make sure you keep your job, you'd better make sure you don't lose to Mississippi State.

"Does the term 'inferiority complex' come up?" he said.

Former Alabama linebacker Lee Roy Jordan said there would be critics whichever decision Shula made on the award.

"I don't have a reaction to it one way or the other," said Jordan, who also has a spring award named after him. "If they had gone on with it, some people would've said, 'You're promoting our opponent.' It was going to be a negative thing for one side or the other."

Bryant created seven spring awards in 1971, adding an eighth a year later. Bill Curry added five more awards in the late 1980s, including the one named for Croom, and two others have been added in the past five years.

Jordan said Alabama's program has bigger problems than worrying about the name of a spring award, coming off a 4-9 season and burdened by NCAA scholarship sanctions.

"I don't know that I would have thought that much about it if I was the head coach at Alabama," he said. "They didn't have many people who looked like they earned any awards when I was up there watching them. They don't have much talent."