- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Saying he has no regrets about the five years he spent at Mississippi State, Sylvester Croom is headed back to the NFL as running backs coach for the St. Louis Rams.
Croom, who accepted the Rams' offer on Thursday, was an assistant for 17 years in the NFL before taking on the rebuilding job at Mississippi State, where he became the first black head football coach in SEC history.
He was named the SEC's Coach of the Year in 2007 when the Bulldogs won eight games. But they stumbled to a 4-8 finish this past season, and Croom resigned after being informed by new Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne that he planned to go in another direction.
"It was a great experience for me, and I'm not severing my ties with Mississippi State," Croom said. "I still have many friends there both inside and outside the program and think the future is very bright. We were on the right track. I have no doubt about that. But I look forward now to moving onto other areas of my life."
Croom, 54, inherited a program that was ridden with NCAA sanctions and in dire need of a deep cleaning. The Bulldogs have had just two winning seasons this decade, and one of those was 2007, which culminated with a Liberty Bowl victory.
"One of the things about leadership is that you want to leave any institution, whether it's a business or a football team, a better place than you found it," said Croom, who was 21-38 in five seasons at Mississippi State. "I'll let other people rate the things we did or didn't do there, but I feel very strongly that the program's in better shape than we found it."
Croom is also hopeful his approach at Mississippi State and the way he went about doing things in a difficult situation will help other blacks seeking head coaching opportunities.
"I think some of the myths about minorities not being able to function or lead a program, particularly in the South ... I think we destroyed those," Croom said.
"Now, has it changed the willingness of those in power to give more minorities head coaching opportunities? I think only time will tell."
Croom, an All-America center under Bear Bryant at Alabama in the early 1970s, said he's not shutting the door on returning to college football.
"If the right job comes along and somebody's interested in me, I'll look at that," he said. "Right now, I'm looking forward to working with the Rams."
Chris Low is senior writer for ESPN.com
1dEric D. Williams