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Croom becomes first black SEC coach

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Sylvester Croom became the first black
head football coach in Southeastern Conference history, accepting
an offer Monday to take over troubled Mississippi State.

"We went after the best football coach and we're confident we
found that individual in Sylvester Croom," athletic director Larry
Templeton said.

Croom informed Templeton that he would take the job less than 24
hours after Templeton said he had offered it. A news conference
will be held Tuesday to introduce him.

Croom, 49, has never been a head coach, but has been an NFL
assistant with five teams since 1987 and worked for Bear Bryant and
Ray Perkins at Alabama from 1977-86.

The SEC's hiring history came under increased scrutiny earlier
this year when Croom was passed over for the top job at his alma
mater, Alabama, in favor of Mike Shula, another former Crimson Tide
player, who is white.

Every other BCS conference has had at least one black head
coach, but a lack of diversity among major college football head
coaches is not exclusive to the SEC.

There were only four black head football coaches among 117
Division I-A football schools this season.


"I'm happy to see Mississippi State step up," John Mitchell, a Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach and former teammate of Crooms' at Alabama, told ESPN.com. "I've had some bad views of the state of Mississippi for a long time, since I was growing up. For them to beat Alabama and the rest of the states not only to hire an African-American coach, but someone as qualified as Sylvester Croom, it says a lot for them."

The SEC provided its members lists of potential minority
candidates to help promote a more inclusive hiring process.

Alabama was criticized by some, including civil rights activist
Jesse Jackson, for not hiring Croom, who had more experience than
Shula.

"The issue of opportunities for minority coaches to become head
football coaches is an issue for everybody, all the conferences in
the country," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "The fact that
the SEC has now provided that opportunity makes it an historic day
for the conference and for Mississippi State."

Jackson said Croom's hiring is a positive step for the SEC, but
the league still is lagging in minority hirings at high-profile
positions such as athletic director and university president.

"So while this is a breakthrough, we're really way behind our
potential," Jackson said. "But I think Mississippi State, its
president and its athletic director deserve congratulations and I
extend that to them."

Messages left at Croom's home and office were not immediately
returned.

Templeton said that he hoped Croom, who has been coaching
running backs at Green Bay since 2001, would be cleared by the
Packers to assume his new position immediately.

He replaces retiring coach Jackie Sherrill and inherits a
program that has been in a free fall for three years.

The Bulldogs are 8-27 since 2001 with just three SEC victories.
They completed a 2-10 season last week, the school's worst since
1988.

"What will help him is he's a guy who's definitely a good
disciplinarian and he's very basic in what he wants from his
players," Packers running back Ahman Green said of Croom. "And if
you do what he asks of his players, you do exactly what he wants,
you'll be OK."

Mississippi State is awaiting the results of an NCAA
investigation into possible rules violations by the football
program from 1998-2002. Templeton said he has discussed the NCAA
issues with Croom.

Croom, who played offensive line at Alabama in the early '70s,
still has family in his native Tuscaloosa and a daughter and
granddaughter living in Mobile, Ala.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.