Croom resigns as head coach of Mississippi State

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

conference in America," Keenum said.