Inside My Head

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Clean Sweep!

Posted by Kevin on December 5, 2007

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom has swept the two most recognized Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year honors, it was announced today.Croom, who led the Bulldogs to a 7-5 record and their first bowl berth since 2000, was named coach of the year by his peers and by the Associated Press.

State won seven of its last 11 games after a 45-0 loss to then-No. 2 LSU in the season-opener. High-profile wins against Alabama, Auburn and Kentucky followed, as did a come-from-behind win over Ole Miss in the Nov. 23 Egg Bowl that clinched the team’s first bowl berth since 2000.

MSU will face Central Florida (10-3) in the Dec. 29 AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

“It is a great honor and a tremendous blessing to be named SEC coach of the year by my peers,” Croom said in a statement released by MSU. “To even be considered for such an award by the coaches in this conference is quite special.

“I would like to thank my coaching staff, our players, the MSU administration, and the fans for their support over the past four years, and particularly this season. I especially want to thank the fans for the home field advantage they have created. They had a tremendous affect on the outcome of the games.

“Special praise and gratitude also has to go to our seniors, and our entire football team, for the character and determination they showed this season. But I also must remind them that the job is not yet finished.”

Croom is the first State coach to be honored as the AP SEC Coach of the Year since Charley Shira in 1970 and the first from State voted in by his peers since Wade Walker in 1957.

When Sylvester Croom was hired four years ago, State’s football program was in shambles. The talent level was poor, many of the attitudes even worse. The NCAA was handing down sanctions for deeds done under Jackie Sherrill‘s watch. We had already suffered through three straight losing seasons and had absolutely no hope of ever coming out of the funk.

Mississippi State broke the color barrier by hiring Croom as the first minority head football coach in the SEC (he’s still the only one). Croom carried with him an impressive resume as an assistant coach, but he had not coached at the college level in more than 17 years and had zero head coaching experience. However, what Croom did have was character. Lots of character. The man was well groomed by his parents and his coaching mentors. And he had a plan for turning around State’s dreadful football program.

I doubt there are many State football fans that honestly gave him a chance to win. I know I sure didn’t. Croom wasn’t very concerned about recruiting when he first arrived in Starkville. His first priority was to change the attitude of the team. He knew if he could weed out the bad attitudes and loser mentality, positive things would happen. How he even survived his first year is beyond me. But he did. He kicked players off the team, worked others so hard that they quit. In the end, what he was left with were players who bought into their coach. Players with good work ethic, good attitudes, and players who would not quit no matter what.

His first season was no better than the three seasons prior to his arrival as far as wins go. But the difference in the team could be seen. They were trying harder even though it didn’t show up in the win column.

Croom’s second season was worse in win totals, but you could still see there was a lot of fight in the team. But how long could they go on continuing to lose before the program caved in again?

Last year the Bulldogs again only won three games, but you could sense they were close to breaking through. Of their nine losses, four of them were one-possession games that State had a chance in. Winning was just beyond their grasp but it gave fans hope.

This year State finally was able to take advantage of an opportunistic defense and find ways to win seven ballgames. Had just a very few plays gone in our favor, State could have easily won nine ballgames.

Croom’s plan is working. He has stuck to his guns and is rebuilding the program the right way. He is recruiting players with good character and good work ethic. He says those types of players win ballgames. Winning ballgames makes more people want to play for you. Doing it the right way makes more parents want to send their sons to play under someone like Croom. Croom has definitely changed my mind. I suspect he has changed oh so many more who also doubted him.

Job well done, coach. We’re proud of you.

P.S. Croom has also been named a finalist for Liberty Mutual’s National Coach of the Year.

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