Croom to keep coaching RBs in SEC

Updated: December 1, 2003, 10:25 PM ET
Associated Press

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' running backs had mixed emotions Monday when Sylvester Croom informed them he was taking the Mississippi State coaching job.

"It's a good and bad thing," Ahman Green said.

One locker away, backup Tony Fisher had similar sentiments.

"I'm happy for him but I'm also going to be sad because he's the guy who gave me my opportunity in the NFL," said Fisher, an undrafted free agent who has thrived under Croom's tutelage.

So has Green, who has become one of the league's top running backs since Croom's arrival as his position coach in 2001.

"Oh yeah, he's been my coach for three years. I basically had a lot of good times, not many bad times," Green said.

Green has been to the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons and this year ranks second in the NFC to New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister in rushing (1,383 yards) and yards from scrimmage (1,721).

Green, who needs just 90 yards to break Jim Taylor's single-season rushing record, credits Croom with helping him become a premiere rusher.

"He helped me become more patient and disciplined," Green said.

Croom, 49, is the first black head coach in Southeastern Conference history, and his running backs said the man known as "Sly" has many attributes that will help him succeed in that vanguard role.

"He can put you in your place when you need to be put in your place, he can pick you up when you're down," running back Najeh Davenport said.

Fullback Nick Luchey said Croom isn't an in-your-face coach but isn't a pushover, either.

"He gets it done without having to yell at you. Yet we respond to him as if he has yelled at us," Luchey said. "He's a remarkable guy. He's a guy that guys want to play for. He's a guy that you don't want to let down."

Fisher said Croom will be under a lot of scrutiny as he breaks the color barrier in the SEC, "but he's a strong individual and he's going to be able to go out there and give it his best."

Just when he'll leave was a matter of much speculation Monday.

Athletic director Larry Templeton said 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.

But a team spokesman said Packers coach Mike Sherman hasn't made up his mind, although Green Bay's players were under the strong impression that Croom would pull double duty until their season ends.

"I think he's going to have to do both," Luchey said. "What we know -- and we don't know everything -- but what we do know, he's going to be juggling both, which is not going to be easy."

Added Fisher: "Hopefully the pressure's not too much for him to basically have to do two jobs now."

Luchey said there's just one solution.

"The one thing that we can do is make it easier for him by getting everything done right so he doesn't have to worry about it too much," Luchey said.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press