Coach Croom is maroon and white

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Sylvester Croom has his work cut out for him. He’s got big shoes to fill in replacing the winningest coach in Mississippi State history. He’s the first black head football coach in the SEC. And he’s inheriting a team who has won just eight games in three years, has a suspect line on both sides of the ball and is facing possible NCAA sanctions.

Welcome to Starkvegas, Coach Croom.

Much has been made of the fact that Croom will be the first black head football coach in the SEC. In some ways, perhaps a big deal should be made. It is great that a school from Mississippi should break the color barrier for the South. Furthermore, it’s time that race was not a factor in hiring a coach. It’s time experience and talent mattered most.

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Of course, some will argue that race was indeed a factor in Croom’s hiring. Those who are unhappy with his hiring – or those who are just unabashedly prejudice – will say Croom got the job because he is black. These people might assume that by MSU hiring a black head coach that the NCAA might go easy on the Bulldogs because of any rules violations that might have occurred.

Such logic stinks, and it is what holds us back as a state in the image department. For those who do not think image matters, think again. Businesses want to be involved with a state seen as progressive, as open-minded and definitely not as stuck in the old South mindsets of segregation and silent prejudices.

By the nature of our namesake being Mississippi and our geographic location being the South, we as a state must already fight against preconceived notions by others, whether those notions are largely true or largely false. Perception, unfortunately, is everything. When others in our state further those perceptions for political gain &045; reference Rep. Bennie Thompson and his stance against Judge Charles Pickering for the U.S. Court of Appeals &045; then it makes it ever harder for us to advance in the national struggle of job recruitment, economic growth and social advancement.

So, when our state does do something that goes against the national perception of a backwoods society filled with racial bigots, then we should all be proud of the accomplishment. It is just further proof that our society is not that of Hollywood portrayals and outside media characterizations.

Getting back to Coach Croom, as an African American and the first black head football coach in the SEC, he has been thrust into the national spotlight whether he likes it or not. Nonetheless, he has not been hired as a symbol of anything. Croom has been hired, so says MSU Athletic Director Larry Templeton, to win football games. He was chosen, not as a symbol of something, but as Templeton said, because he is the most qualified football coach for Mississippi State.

Larger and national media outlets are feasting on this story as a progressive move by Mississippi State. That’s fine. It is. But the newness should now wear off immediately. Croom is not a black SEC head coach. He is the head coach of Mississippi State and should be regarded as such.

If you want to look at something remarkable, don’t bring up his race, bring up his record.

The sooner people start looking at Croom as a coach and not a black coach, the sooner he can get down to the business at hand without further distractions.

Besides, when it’s all said and done &045; to borrow from Jack Cristil &045; you can wrap Coach Croom in maroon and white. Who cares what colors are underneath.

Sam R. Hall

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