ATHENS, Ga. - Although others might disagree, Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom doesn't see the need to discuss the significance of his becoming the first black coach in Southeastern Conference history.
To him, it's old news.
"Until you asked me that one I thought I was going to get through this one without that question," Croom said. "It's not about me now. I knew last year that was part of the first year and I was going to have to answer that question throughout the year, but it's over now. Now we can talk about building the program."
Still, Croom's impact on the league cannot be understated. Before he was named as Jackie Sherrill's replacement in December 2003, never before had a black man stood in charge of a football program in the SEC.
Some wondered if one ever would. But when the protege of the late Alabama legend Paul "Bear" Bryant stepped to the microphone during his introduction speech, it changed the perception of the league forever.
"We are thankful that we have a minority coach," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "But I know coach Croom was hired for his coaching ability and not his race."
Mississippi State fan and Marietta resident David Giddons feels exactly the same way as Richt.
"I think we hired the best coach available," Giddons said. "Our program is definitely heading in the right direction."
Just ask Bulldogs running back Jerious Norwood.
Before Croom arrived, Mississippi State had the reputation of being the SEC's most undisciplined team, where players did what they wanted and paid little attention to authority.
"We knew he meant business when he didn't say anything, just looked around for a while and threw his jacket over the chair," Norwood said of Croom's first team meeting.
Skeptical players soon found out just how serious he was. During that first meeting, Croom ejected several players for showing up late, and disciplined two others, one for writing a note while the coach was talking, and another for slumping in his chair.
"The biggest thing is now our kids understand what we are trying to do," Croom said. "Not only do we want them to be outstanding football players, but we want them to be outstanding people who will lead solid, productive lives. To us, building a winning program and winning people go hand in hand."
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