JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Sylvester Croom resigned from Mississippi
State on Saturday, five years after becoming the Southeastern
Conference's first black head football coach.
Croom announced the decision after meeting with athletic
director Greg Byrne. It came less than 24 hours after an
embarrassing 45-0 loss to No. 25 Mississippi in the most lopsided
Egg Bowl in 37 years.
Croom, who took over the team while it was under NCAA sanctions,
won 2007 SEC coach of the year honors after leading the Bulldogs to
an 8-5 finish and the Liberty Bowl. He signed a contract extension
in the offseason that paid him $1.7 million this year.
But he came under immediate pressure from fans after a
season-opening loss to Louisiana Tech of the Western Athletic
Conference, and the heat only intensified as the offensively inept
Bulldogs stumbled to a 4-8 finish.
The coach was 21-38 overall. He did not immediately return a
phone message left by The Associated Press.
"Five years ago, Mississippi State gave me the unprecedented
opportunity to be a head football coach in the Southeastern
Conference and to build a program based upon a strong foundation,"
Croom said in a statement.
"We have tried to build a program the right way that can
compete for conference championships. I believe the foundation has
been set for those goals to be reached under the leadership of
someone else, and it was my decision to resign."
Byrne was scheduled to meet with reporters later Saturday
Calls for Croom to make changes to his coaching staff and
run-first offensive philosophy dogged the Bulldogs. The team
continued to have trouble at quarterback and Croom switched
starters midway through the season.
The Bulldogs were 11th in the SEC in scoring offense (16.6
points per game) and 10th in total offense (297.7 yards per game)
through 11 games and lost badly at Georgia Tech (38-7) and
Tennessee (34-3). Yet some optimism remained that Mississippi State
could salvage a bit of pride and its promising recruiting class
after a 31-28 win over Arkansas last week and with a good game
against the revitalized Rebels.
Croom even got a vote of confidence from incoming Mississippi
State president Mark Keenum.
But Mississippi State was outmatched from the start and looked
poorly prepared against Ole Miss. The quarterbacks were hit hard on
nine of their first 10 pass attempts as the Rebels put together a
school-record 11 sacks and set another mark by holding the Bulldogs
to minus-51 yards rushing.
Croom seemed stunned after the game.
"They came in here with the idea they were going to beat us
bad, and they did from start to finish," Croom said. "I don't
know why what happened today occurred. I'm sorry to say that it's
an absolute mystery to me."
Byrne, a new hire who's been on the job less than a year,
wouldn't comment on the speculation surrounding the football team
during the season but said Saturday that a possible resignation was
discussed in the morning meeting.
"We discussed the football program and many topics were
addressed, including resignation," Byrne said in a statement. "I
want to thank Coach Croom for the leadership he has provided our
football program over the last five years."
While Croom wasn't able to squeeze many wins out of his tenure,
there's little question he improved a Mississippi State program
that was at its lowest ebb. The Bulldogs were hit with major
sanctions following rules violations under previous coach Jackie
Sherrill and had won just three games a season between 2001-03.
Hired Dec. 1, 2003, the Bear Bryant disciple who had been an
all-American center at Alabama and an NFL assistant for 17 seasons
inherited a team low on talent. Heavy sanctions and the SEC's
lowest budget made the challenge even steeper.
"We couldn't even get recruits to visit campus," Croom said
this week while talking about his early recruiting efforts.
But Croom upgraded the talent enough that the Bulldogs were
competitive in the nation's toughest conference and they earned
their first winning season since 2000 last year, capping it with a
10-3 win over Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.
He also was having success off the field, drawing commitments
from several top recruits, including a quarterback.
A spokesman said players would not be available Saturday, but
some defended Croom following Friday's loss.
"I think it is unfair," wide receiver Delmon Robinson said of
the criticism. "When it's man-to-man coverage, it's the receiver
against the (defensive back). If the receiver doesn't win, it's not
the coach's fault that he didn't win. It's all about the players.
We've got to win and we've got to go out there and execute coach's
It was the second straight season an embarrassing loss in the
Egg Bowl led to a coaching change. Coach Ed Orgeron was fired a day
after the Rebels collapsed in a 17-14 loss. Ole Miss led 14-0 going
into the fourth quarter, but Orgeron went for it on fourth down at
midfield. The Bulldogs stopped the play, went on to score and
finished with 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Byrne said Croom's assistants remain under contract and will
work until a new coach is hired. A search will begin immediately.
"Looking forward I plan to work closely with athletic director
Greg Byrne to move quickly, but with due deliberation, to find a
new head football coach with high energy and a commitment to
compete for championships and bowl opportunities in the best