Justin’s Journey as a Bulldog: Croom Years


These are the Cowbells my wife, an Ole Miss alum, had made for me and my son for my 30th birthday.

Every fan of every team has a story. It doesn’t matter what kind of fan you are or what team you cheer for, each and every one of us has a story about why we love the teams we do. The fans of Mississippi State University are no different. We all have our reasons, and they are all unique. Today, I will share mine. I’m reliving the gloom of the Croom Years today.

The Croom Era

I remember being really happy when the Bulldogs hired Sylvester Croom. The prior season, the Crimson Tide were looking for a new head coach and it was down to Croom and Mike Shula for their job. They chose Shula, and almost everyone agreed that they should have chosen Croom. There were lots of rumors of Alabama refusing to hire a black coach, but who knows why they chose Shula. So when Mississippi State hired Croom the next season, I was genuinely excited. And why shouldn’t I be. We had a coach that should be coaching the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The one thing that we all knew when Croom got there is that we were going to have to be patient. The last few years under Sherrill saw lots of players get into the program with lots of character issues. The team was going to have to be cleaned up. And the one thing that I, as well as all Mississippi State fans are grateful to Sylvester Croom for, is cleaning house. There were numerous players that were kicked off the team in the hopes of putting it on the right track.

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So patience was the name of the game when the first year of the Croom years started. I knew it was going to be bad for a while. I didn’t know that we were going to be so bad that we lost to Maine 9-7. It’s easily the worst loss the football team has suffered since I have been a fan. There have been plenty of bad ones but that one was the worst. It never got that bad again, but it rarely got much better. What made the Croom years so bad is that the Bulldogs just weren’t a bad football team, they were also a boring football team. 3 yards and a cloud of dust was the mantra of the Croom years. The same plays were being called on offense almost every down. Run the ball up the middle, try to get it to 3rd down and three or four and hope you get enough yards on a third down run to extend the drive. There was no development on offense whatsoever. The saving grace was the defense got better and better every year.

The most fascinating part of the Croom era for me was the “Croomed” phenomenon. For some reason, the Bulldogs always found a way to get up for one opponent a year and play out of their minds. The coach of that team got fired and was subsuquently fired. It happened three times. Ron Zook of the Florida Gators was the first to suffer the fate. Then came Mike Shula, who got the Alabama job instead of Croom, in 2006. The last to get Croomed was Ed Orgeron in 2007, though it’s arguable it had less to do with losing to Mississippi State, and more to do with the way he lost that game.

When Croom was hired, Larry Templeton said Croom was going to get four years to turn the program around. It didn’t matter what would happen in the first three years, Croom was always going to have four years. Many fans were getting impatient at the end of 2006. The winning seemed to be years away, and many wanted to make a change immediately. I remember thinking when we entered the season opener against LSU that we might find out a lot about this team in that game. Mississippi State lost 45-0 on 7 turnovers, 6 of which were Michael Henig interceptions.

I was wrong then, because Mississippi State found a little magic that year. A surprising win over Auburn on the Plains propelled the Bulldogs to a 7-5 record and their first bowl appearance when they would go to the Liberty Bowl. They were led by a true freshman at quarterback in Wes Carroll. I thought the entire year that he was the perfect quarterback for a team like Mississippi State. He didn’t turn the ball over that much in 2007, and we had a strong running game in Anthony Dixon. Surely this could be the guy to get the Bulldogs back on track. After the Bulldogs would beat Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl and finish the season 8-5, things appeared to be heading the right direction.

Then the season opener at Louisiana Tech happened in 2008. Mississippi State lost the game 22-14, mostly because the one thing Wes Carroll didn’t do a lot of in 2007 he did in 2008: turn the ball over. The Bulldogs turned the ball over 5 times in that game, 3 of which were Carroll interceptions.

It was a disaster of a season. The infamous 3-2 loss against Auburn was that same year. As bad as that was, Croom had a chance to make one last statement to save his job in the Egg Bowl. A win over Ole Miss in 2008 would have put the Bulldogs at 5-7 and ended the season with 2 wins as they beat Arkansas that year. They got drilled 45-0 in the first Egg Bowl of the Houston Nutt era for Ole Miss. The 3-2 loss to Auburn might be the worst game ever played in college football, but there might not be a worse game for one team than that 45-0 loss in the Egg Bowl. I watched that game in sheer disbelief. The Bulldogs had 24 yards of total offense. They still got 8 first downs somehow. The Bulldogs had 88 yards passing, and -64 yards rushing. We had a -2.4 yard per rush average in that game. Those numbers still shock me to this day.

Making matters worse for Croom was the fact that Mississippi State had just hired a new AD to take over in 2008. Greg Byrne saw all he needed to see of the Croom era. Croom was let go the next day, and Dan Mullen would be hired to run the team not long after that.

Tomorrow: My Life as a Blogger