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Former Tide player, coach Sylvester Croom to be inducted into Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

George Walker IV - USA Today Sports

He was a pioneer in every sense of the word.  

Sylvester Croom was not only a competitor, but he also believed in doing things the right way and treating people the right way.

It may not have the most popular; however, the road he took made people around him better and he is forever valued for the way he went about his work. 

A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Croom had been in the coaching profession for four decades – prior to his decision to retire in 2018.

According to an announcement from the Board of Directors of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Croom is one of eight people to be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame on May 2, 2020.  

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After being a star athlete at Tuscaloosa High School, Croom attended the University of Alabama in 1972.

He played under head coach, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant as he spent time at linebacker, tight end and center.

Croom took over the center position in 1974, becoming the first African American to anchor the role in school history. He was team captain that year and as a senior, he earned the Jacobs Blocking Trophy for the Southeastern Conference and All-American honors. 

Croom won three conference titles and a national championship (1973), but his greatest contribution came as a coach. Following his lone season in the National Football League with the New Orleans Saints in 1975, he returned to the Crimson Tide as an assistant coach. 

Under the guidance of Bryant and Ray Perkins, Croom served 11 seasons (1976-86) coaching inside and outside linebackers. He was a critical part of navigating the defense to 10 bowl games and two national championships (1978-79), while producing four first-round draft picks – including Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas.  

He wanted results, but what players loved most about Croom was that they could talk to him about anything.

He was an advocate for his student-athletes and he cared about the complete individual. Croom, like most others, always dreamed of what it would be like to coach in the NFL.

He took a chance in 1987 to be the running backs’ coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and would span 17 years between it, Indianapolis, San Diego, Detroit and Green Bay from 1987-03.

Along with backs, he was the offensive coordinator for the Lions from 1997-00 and was on the Chargers’ 1995 staff that appeared in Super Bowl XXIX (29). While the success led to him earning an interview to be the head coach of his Alma mater in 2003, Croom was not chosen to be the guy at Alabama and took his talents to Mississippi State University in 2004.  

He became the first black head coach in the SEC and that came with challenges.  

Not a lot of people believed he could do it and when he inherited a program decimated by NCAA sanctions, he was set up behind the 8-ball.

Regardless of early struggles, Croom was not fazed.  

He found ways to get the right players and motivated guys to believe they could win on any given Saturday.

Croom did not believe in cutting corners. His upbringing from a faith-based home would not allow him to.

The toiling from 2004 to 2006 led to something very special at Davis Wade Stadium in 2007. Residents of Starkville (Miss.) began to notice a difference in the program. They started to see a change in culture, a change in belief and idea that spoke “why not us and why not now.”

For the first time, everyone bought into the message Croom spoke on. 

The 2007 season witnessed an 8-5 teams with wins over Auburn, Kentucky (No.14), Alabama (No. 21) and Ole Miss. After a 10-3 victory over Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, Croom finally exhaled.

He had accomplished what no one else thought was possible: he restored purpose to Bulldogs football and showed that blacks can be very effective head coaches. 

Although he would be let go in 2008, Croom was named Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches’ Association (AFCA) and the SEC for his efforts in 2007. He returned to the NFL in 2009 to coach running backs for the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and from that year until 2016, he worked with the Rams, Jaguars and Titans in producing stars in the offensive backfield. 

For 41 years, Croom was a winner. 

Whether it was in high school, college or in college, he made it to the biggest stages and delivered greatness and honesty. Because of him, more blacks are being promoted to head coach at many venues – including Jimmy Lake, who is taking over for Chris Petersen at the University of Washington. 

Congratulations to Croom as he goes into the Hall of Fame. 

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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