Rob Evans, Rod Barnes and now Sylvester Croom are in a fraternity of their own. They are the only black men to ever hold head coaching positions at the collegiate level in the state of Mississippi.
Tuesday Croom crossed over into this elite fraternity when he was introduced as head football coach of Mississippi State University. What makes Croom’s hiring so special is football is life in the South, especially in Mississippi where Archie Manning and Johnny Cannon remain legends over 30 years after they played their last college games.
For the cynics out there who wonder if Croom was hired solely because of his race, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Croom is a man who has been an assistant coach for the last 17 years and was recently passed over at his alma mater, the University of Alabama, for the less qualified Mike Shula.
The number of black head coaches before Croom’s historic hiring was four. Which is quite paltry considering that over half of all Division I-A football players are black. These statistics don’t show exactly how big a milestone it is to have a black head coach in the SEC. In the past five years nationally renowned programs in the South such as Florida, Georgia, Louisiana State and Alabama have all had coaching vacancies, only to turn the other cheek to numerous qualified applicants.
Just last week the University of Arizona hired Mike Stoops, a white co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and turned the other cheek on alumnus Ricky Hunley, who is black and is currently the defensive line coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, and a career assistant like Croom was.
The irony of the Arizona situation is Stoops spent 10 minutes talking about bringing Arizona back to the level it was in the past and particularly in the 90s. Who would know about the pride in a university’s football past better than an alumnus?
Croom’s hiring at Mississippi State shows there is progress in the world of college football, especially in the South. But until there are more than five token black guys as head coaches in Division I football, changes in the coaching ranks will be as slow to change as the ghosts of Mississippi’s past.
Will Brown, 19, is a sophomore broadcast journalism student from Rockledge. He is the Deputy Sports Editor and can be reached at Willbitsgood48@aol.com.