Blair says Croom best man for job

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 8, 2003

Brookhaven resident Gary Blair, president of Mississippi StateUniversity’s National Alumni Association, had some positive wordsto share regarding new MSU head football coach Sylvester Croom. Amember of the MSU advisory committee which participated in theinterview and search process, Blair had lunch with Croom Tuesdayafternoon in Starkville.

“The advisory committee had lunch with him,” said Blair. “I wasvery impressed with Sylvester. I like him a lot.”

According to Croom, there will be no quick-fix for the Bulldogs.”One of the main things he told us was that he was going to get theprogram back on track but it was going to take him a couple ofyears,” said Blair.

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Croom also will promote the academic side of college life. He isa strong disciplinarian. If the players don’t go to class or don’tdo well in school, they’ll be in trouble.

Brookhaven native Ann Sanders Carr is in charge of the academicprogram at State. Carr played basketball for the Lady Bulldogs from1987-90. She was a 6-foot sophomore at BHS when the Lady Pantherswent 40-0 and were ranked nationally, way back in 1984.

Blair said, “One of the first persons he wanted to meet with wasAnn. He wants to be involved in the academic side.”

Croom’s experience on the NFL level should be a big plus for theBulldogs. He also played for and coached under two of the mostsuccessful coaches in Alabama history. Blair said Croom “brings alot that he learned from Bear Bryant and Ray Perkins. Hisphilosophy comes a lot from them.”

Croom plans to use the Green Bay style on offense. His defensewill be one that won’t let opponents score.

Personally, Croom is exceptional. “He has drive and he has wit,”said Blair. “He is a very good communicator. He met every criteriaof what we set aside.”

Blair said race wasn’t a factor in Croom’s selection. There wasmuch pre-hiring hype in the media regarding MSU’s opportunity tohire the first black head football coach in the SEC.

“It (skin color) doesn’t matter to him or to the committee,”said Blair. “I think he got frustrated a little bit when somepeople said that he was being hired because of his race. But itdoesn’t matter what color he is.”

Blair said the MSU football team also was impressed with Croom.”The players met with him (Tuesday) and he had them eating out ofthe palm of his hand. He demands respect from the players.”

Croom and current MSU recruiting coordinator Rocky Felker arealready working together. There was no prior agreement that Croombe required to keep or release any of the assistant coaches.

Three African Americans served on the selection committee alongwith five others plus MSU president Dr. J. Charles Lee and athleticdirector Larry Templeton.

The monetary compensation package was put together. Croom willreceive an estimated base salary of $800,000.

Blair said he enjoyed serving on the selection committee. “Itwas an opportunity that I’ll always remember. I told Coach Croomyesterday that he’s the kind of person who can unite us and keepthe players playing hard for Mississippi State.”

A huge crowd attended Tuesday’s official introduction ceremony.”Mississippi State has probably got more media attention than whenwe went to the Final Four,” said Blair.

Blair said Croom was keenly aware of the media blitz trumpetinghis hiring at MSU and he shared his feelings. “Sylvester said itshouldn’t be about him, it should be about the players.”

Looking to the future, Blair said Croom wants to upgrade the MSUfootball facilities, especially the locker room area. He also wantsa players’ lounge so they can get together after practice in arelaxed atmosphere.

How soon Croom produces a winner in the rugged SEC remains to beseen. It’s a matter of time, talent and patience.

Brookhaven Academy’s Collins Case will represent his school inFriday night’s Mississippi Private School Association All-StarFootball Game. Kickoff is 6 p.m. in Hale-Robinson Stadium locatedon the Mississippi College campus in Clinton.

Case (5-10, 160) is playing the role of the Lone Ranger thisweek. The Cougars battled to a 5-6 record, winning their last fourgames of the season under head coach Ray Ishee.

As a senior, Case passed for 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hismain competition at all-star camp this week is quarterback JosephQueen of Jackson Prep. Hillcrest Christian’s Doug Hoehn is coachingthe South quarterbacks and running backs.

South head coach is David King of Class A state runner-upTrinity Episcopal School of Natchez. Trinity players include IvanNastally, Dudley Quick, Walt Ketchings and Gregory Ketchings.Trinity’s Chase Brown was named to the team but will be unable toparticipate due to an injury.

Other South coaches are Billy Wayne Hankins of AA state championSimpson County and Keith Walters of Adams County ChristianSchool.

Other South All-Star squad players from this area are BrettHicks of Parklane Academy, Brian Speights and Dewayne Ingram ofColumbia Academy.

North head coach is Lance Prine of Briarfield. Brookhaven nativeHerbert Davis, Jr. of AA state runner-up Columbus Heritage is aNorth assistant this year. Joey Hawkins of AAA champ JacksonAcademy and Kyle Finney of Clarksdale Lee also are assisting.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz at P.O. BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS39602 or e-mail