As the first African American center at the University of Alabama, and one of the school's first black players, Croom earned All-American honors, won three SEC championships and displayed the "can-do" attitude first instilled by his father, Rev. Sylvester Croom Sr. After playing for legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and then coaching under him for a decade, Croom moved on to the NFL as an assistant coach for 17 years before emerging as a leading candidate for what he considered to be the ultimate position-head coach at Alabama.
Though it appeared in the spring of 2003 that Croom was on the verge of being named Alabama's next head coach, it was Mike Shula who ended up getting the job. But the following year, Croom was named head coach at another SEC school, Mississippi State University, making him the first African American head football coach in the history of the conference as well as leaving him with the formidable task of rebuilding a football program facing NCAA sanctions.
Although his head coaching career began with three consecutive three-win seasons, Croom earned a breakthrough win in 2006, beating Shula and his alma mater in Tuscaloosa. The following year, his Mississippi State team beat Alabama for a second straight season and went on to complete an 8-5 campaign that included a victory in the Liberty Bowl and multiple Coach of the Year honors for Croom. But after the following season took a turn for the worse, Croom was asked to resign. He soon returned to the NFL as an assistant coach and is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
ESPN Films' Croom will tell the story of a coach who has been tested by some of the most difficult circumstances society has to offer but, through his conviction and character, has impacted countless lives.
Directed by Sports Emmy winner Johnson McKelvy and narrated by actor Terrence Howard, Croom features interviews from family and colleagues, including: SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, former Alabama teammate and now Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore, former MSU Athletic Directors Larry Templeton and Greg Byrne, Author and Radio Host Paul Finebaum, former MSU player Brett Morgan, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, and former NFL head coach Tony Dungy.
ESPN Films launched the "Storied" documentary series in September 2011, presenting fans the opportunity to explore the rich athletic history of the Southeastern Conference. From extraordinary athletes and coaches to defining games and moments, the "Storied" series features films from the SEC's recent and more distant past.
Quotes from Croom
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive on Croom's career: "It was a story not about sport, but it was story about us. It was a story about society. It was a story about the south. And I don't believe there'll be a more pivotal event that will occur in my tenure no matter how long I stay here."
Paul Finebaum on Croom's integrity: "Who knows how this story would have ended if Sylvester Croom cut corners like some of the other coaches, if he took players who he didn't believe in. But that's not who he was. And I think in the end he may have lost the job at Mississippi State because of what he stood for."
Croom on Bear Bryant's philosophy: "He was always talking to us about what our lives were gonna be 10, 20 years down the road. The lessons we would learn from the game, if you can discipline yourself to get through these practices and excel, if you can discipline yourself to come back from this loss. If you can discipline yourself to keep fighting in the fourth quarter when you're behind, then those lessons will carry you 10, 20 years from now... you'll know how to fight. And he's right."
Croom on coaching his players at MSU: "When I went into a player's home and told Mom and Daddy that I was going to treat their son like he was mine, that was the truth. If you send your boy to me, if you send him to our program, four years from now you'll get a grown man back. He'll be prepared to provide for himself and his family. He will have his degree. Because if he comes here, I will not play him if he won't go to class. I'm not going to exploit his athletic talents and he leave here with nothing. That was a promise I made to every one of their parents."