Croom cares for his players

Published 3:30 pm Thursday, March 1, 2007

We all know the old saying, “Nice guys finish last.”

Sadly, this saying is often true. In business, love, war and even sports, the guy who tries to play by the rules often finds himself in trouble.

One could especially make that case in the world of football. Many of the most successful coaches of all time — Bear Bryant, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, etc. — would hardly be considered to be nice guys.

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But while listening to Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom speak last week at the Miss-Lou Chapter of The National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame banquet, I found myself thinking how unfair that really can be.

Croom certainly has his shortcomings. Several of his Bulldogs wound up in the police blotter over the last year.

But listening to the man speak, it’s obvious he thinks of more than just winning football games while leading his team.

Too few coaches at the college and high school level in this day and age are committed to improving the lives of their players. While the NFL coaches may make the big bucks, they never have the opportunity to have such an impact on a young man’s future.

Croom learned that from his mentor, Coach Bryant. While Bryant never cozied up to his players, he was concerned that they get their education and become productive members of society after their playing career ended.

In an age when so many young men lack a strong influence in their lives, the coaching profession has an opportunity like never before to truly affect the future of this country.

So many young men here in the Miss-Lou, as well as on the college campuses of our favorite schools, could use a steadying hand to make sure they are on the straight and narrow.

Unfortunately, many coaches either feel too much pressure to win, or simply don’t take the time to worry about the well-being of their players.

Croom does care. While it’s certainly easy to speak to a roomful of sports fans about your hopes of improving your players’ lives — which Croom did in mesmerizing fashion last week — by all accounts he lives the way he preaches.

Croom may never be a big winner in Starkville. The deck is certainly stacked against him. But I would feel much more confident sending a child to him than I would Phil Fulmer, Nick Saban or Tommy Tuberville.

Hopefully he can bring on a new era of coaches in the South; coaches who genuinely care about more than just winning football games.

But, as the track record has shown, many of those coaches might find themselves in the same position — at the bottom of the standings.

Tim Cottrell is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached by phone at 601-445-3632 or by e-mail at