In May, 2003, Mike Shula was introduced as head football coach at Alabama. Athletics Director Mal Moore had selected Shula over two other former Tide players who–like Shula–were also assistant coaches in the National Football League. They were Richard Williamson of the Carolina Panthers, who had been a teammate and coaching associate with Moore at Bama, and Sylvester Croom, who had played center for Bama when Moore was the offensive coordinator and who had later coached with Moore for the Tide.
On Thursday, at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham, Croom–who is beginning his second season as head coach at Mississippi State–was asked what advice he would give to new coaches. Croom, a native of Tuscaloosa who had been running backs coach at Green Bay when he was tapped for his first job as a head coach, had a surprising answer.
“Any young coach who aspires to be a head coach, as he goes through the developmental process, should put on paper what he believes in and whatever his plan for being a head coach is. I think that is critical. That way he will be prepared when the job interview comes. That way he’s prepared the first day he walks into the job and lets his staff and his players and the administration know exactly what he believes in. And I think he can better articulate his plan if he has already done that.”
Croom learned that lesson through experience.
He told reporters gathered to hear SEC coaches and players talk about the upcoming season, “I haven’t told a lot of people this. I think what’s happened in my life as far as career and what has happened in the careers of a lot of coaches, very little is planned.
“My first opportunity to become a head coach came at an unexpected time. My interview with The University of Alabama came at an unexpected time.
“For years I had known exactly what I wanted to do when I got to be a head coach. But when that interview came, it was not on paper. It was not on paper. The night before I went for the interview, Mike Sherman (head coach at Green Bay) and the guys at Green Bay did a great job of helping me as I scrambled to get some things on paper.
“As it turned out, I didn’t really need it at that interview. But after that interview and when I didn’t get the job, I thought I might never get another chance to be a head coach. But I decided that if I did get another chance, I was not going to be caught short.
“So that summer I spent my entire vacation putting down on paper everything I believed in, everything I expected the coaches to do, what kind of uniforms we were going to have, everything. All of it was done the summer I didn’t get the Alabama job. That’s what I did on my summer vacation the summer before I went to Mississippi State. It was all on paper.
“There was no hesitation about what we were going to do. None at all.
“So that’s my advice to young coaches. When you become a head coach you had better believe, you had better have a plan, you had better totally believe in your plan.
“And that’s why we won’t ever deviate from the plan. We have to win, because I believe in it.”
Croom had some other references to Alabama. He noted that he had recently had a conversation with another coach regarding players. Croom said the coach was talking about the players on Alabama’s 1992 national championship team. “He said that Alabama had about 10 players starting that his school had not offer scholarships to. The point he was making is that you don’t always have to have the great blue chip prospects. Find your kind of guys, find the guys that want to be in your program. Find the guys who believe in doing things the way you want to do them, coach them up, get them ready to play and then go out there and win football games.
“That's what we want to do. We're going to find Mississippi State type people. We're going to find guys who believe in doing things the Bulldog way. Our way is not the only way. Our way may not be the right way, but it's our way. And anybody who doesn't believe it needs to be somewhere else–coaches, players, anybody. But the guys we put out there, they are going to believe. They are going to go out and fight for it every time they go out there.”
Croom was asked about the national championship teams he played on at Alabama, and beyond the quality of personnel what intangibles those teams had that he wants in his Mississippi State teams.
Croom said, “When I played at Alabama, you never thought about losing. You expected to win. There are stages: you hope you can win, you think you can win, you believe you can win, and you expect to win. Last year we didn't even think we could win.”