<
>

Bulldogs on short leash with Croom

He had known them for all of five minutes. Yet that's all Sylvester Croom needed.

He could see the problems with the Mississippi State football team. Not in talent. Not in ability. But in discipline. His new team, gathered in chairs before him, couldn't sit up straight, couldn't look him in the eye and couldn't stay awake. He stewed.

"A couple guys were late," Croom said. "One guy was writing something while I was speaking. We got that corrected real quickly. To be late to a meeting is one of the most selfish and disrespectful things you can do to somebody else. It didn't sit well."

Forget installing a new offense, finalizing personnel or working on fundamentals. Croom, the first-year head coach and the first black head coach in Southeastern Conference, is rebuilding the Bulldog program from the basement up. It starts with discipline, attitude, with going to class. And being a responsible young adult.

"Discipline is not a bad word to me," he said. "It means taking pride in doing things every day. Simple things like paying attention to detail. That translates to winning football on the field."

At the beginning of that introductory meeting last December, Croom asked his players to raise their hands if they wanted to win. Everyone's hand went up. He then asked if they were willing to pay the price to win. Before hands went up, he told his team to stop.

"Don't raise your hand," he said. "Over the next six or seven months, you'll show me."

More like he'll show them. Croom has requested that all freshman and sophomores live on campus. For upperclassmen that live off campus, he's asked to see a copy of their lease before the player gets his housing money. He's made a new rule regarding classes -- you're not allowed to miss one. You're not allowed to be late. And he's even dropped in on a few classes to ensure his players are following suit.

When Croom stopped in a health and nutrition class last month, he watched one of his players stroll in 15 minutes late. The player didn't even realize Croom was in the back of the room until the coach asked a question.

"He about fell out of the chair," Croom said. "I demand that my players go to class. Even if the professor says they don't have to. Even if their parents say they don't have to."

Those who haven't bought into Croom's discipline have been replaced. Just ask running back Nick Turner, who set a school record for all-purpose yards in 2003, but in February was kicked off the team. Turner reportedly had missed a few classes and had scheduled a meeting with Croom to discuss his absences. Turner missed the meeting. Then found himself without a team.

"It just surprises me, for a kid who takes a scholarship to go to college and play college football to not go to class," Croom said. "That's the whole purpose you're there. In anything, you're not going to do well if you don't' show up. It just bothers me.

"Winning and losing are habits. If you do the things that foster winning habits off the field, you will have winning habits on the field. It's that simple."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.