Croom may leave Pack before season's end

Updated: December 4, 2003, 3:42 PM ET
Associated Press

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sylvester Croom might only have to pull double duty through the weekend.

The new Mississippi State coach is committed to guiding the Green Bay Packers running backs only through Sunday's game against Chicago.

"I'm here this week and then we'll see beyond that. Nothing's definite right now," Croom said Wednesday. "I truly am during this transition period going one day at a time."

Green Bay coach Mike Sherman has asked Croom, who has been on his staff since 2001, to stay as long as possible to help the Packers (6-6) make a playoff push.

On Tuesday, when he became the first black coach in Southeastern Conference history, Croom said he'd continue in his post in Green Bay through the end of the regular season.

But he backtracked Wednesday, noting the difficulty of working two full-time jobs. This week, he's helping prepare a game plan for the Bears while also calling recruits and targeting coaches for his new staff.

"It won't be easy, but other people have done it and survived and I figure, hey, I can, too," Croom said. "We'll see how it goes and then I'll meet with Mike. It's a new experience for both of us."

Former Packers running back Edgar Bennett, who has been serving as Croom's apprentice since offseason minicamps, will coach the running backs whenever Croom has to tend to his new duties in Starkville, Miss.

But Sherman wouldn't speculate on when Croom will leave for good.

"We'll worry about next week next week," he said.

Sherman said he didn't believe Croom's recruiting efforts would be harmed by staying in Green Bay: "If I was a kid listening to his press conference, that's where I would want to go to school."

Watching that news conference Tuesday brought tears to Sherman's eyes -- "No. 1 because I'm losing a great coach, but No. 2 by what he said."

Sherman realizes he's asking a lot of Croom to juggle both jobs.

"It's going to be difficult. As I told Sly, 'Only take the job if you have a passion for it.' And he did," Sherman said. "'Along the same lines, I have a passion for the Packers, and so you need to help me in this transition period.' And he's willing to do that.

"He's a man of his word. Is it going to be hard on him? Yes. But it's workable."

Bennett said he didn't view his filling in as a job interview.

"I'm not really thinking about long-term right now," he said. "I'm just going to try to make the most of this opportunity, to help the backs and Sly with his transition so we're in the position to go out and win."

Bennett, who played for Green Bay from 1992-96, has served for two years as the team's director of player development, helping players acclimate themselves to the NFL and Green Bay.

But he's been at every practice and attended every running backs meeting since asking Croom to be his coaching mentor last winter.

"Learning from a guy like Sly, it's priceless," Bennett said.

Croom said that while Bennett still has a lot to learn, he's been a great help to him this season and "my guys respect him to death," so he believes he's leaving the running backs in good hands.

"I know right now if I walk out of here, everything's going to go right on," Croom said. "And no matter when that time comes, the Green Bay Packers are not going to be any less off without me."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press