Old role could be just right to Croom
BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sylvester Croom already has worked as an NFL offensive coordinator and a college head coach. So at this stage of his career, the 54-year-old Croom is over-qualified if anything for his newest position: running backs coach of the St. Louis Rams.
But Croom isn't the type to take a sabbatical. No need to recharge the batteries. No desire to wait for the perfect job to come along. He just wanted to work.
"As a coach, I don't want to take a season off," Croom said Tuesday. "When I do, that will be the end." In other words, the end of his coaching career — he'll be retired. When it's time to travel or catch up on his reading, Croom joked, "I'll want to do it full time. ... I'm going to recharge by going back to being an assistant. There's definitely a difference, but I just didn't think I would like sitting out."
Croom comes to the Rams after five seasons as head coach at Mississippi State. In 2004, he became the first black head coach in the history of Southeastern Conference football. In 2007, he led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record and a Liberty Bowl berth, earning SEC coach of the year honors.
But after a 45-0 loss to rival Mississippi ended a 4-8 season in 2008, Croom resigned. His past ties to the West Coast offense, and the group of coaches who worked in that system helped get Croom an interview with Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis.
"There were a lot of connections once you've been in the West Coast system, and then Green Bay," Croom said. "We sort of all stay in touch. ... I did work with Billy Devaney once before (in San Diego). But the main connection was Brad Childress with Spags. Brad and Spags are real close."
During Croom's four-year stint as offensive coordinator in Detroit (1997-2000), the Lions earned two playoff berths and had some of the league's most productive offenses with Barry Sanders at running back (until Sanders abruptly retired before the '99 season), and Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton at wide receiver.
Croom also had stints with Tampa Bay (1987-90), Indianapolis (1991), San Diego (1992-96) and Green Bay (2001-03) as running backs coach. At San Diego, he worked with bruising Natrone Means and pass-catching Ronnie Harmon on the Chargers' 1994 AFC championship squad. With the Packers, he helped Ahman Green to three straight Pro Bowl trips and three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
In St. Louis, he's working with Steven Jackson, who is being counted on more than ever to be the centerpiece of the Rams' offense. Croom says his early exposure to Jackson has been nothing but positive.
"I'm very excited about the way (Jackson) approached the offseason," Croom said. "He's made himself available."
The running back is an integral part of the passing game in the West Coast offense. Croom said Jackson took the time during the offseason to learn the details of the system, not only as a receiver but also as a pass blocker.
"We took a lot of time this offseason in really teaching the details of the passing game," Croom said. "We've totally changed the (pass-blocking) protections, and he's picked it up with no problems at all.
"He really studies the game. When he's not in there running the play, I'll look, and he's right over my shoulder. He's always asking questions."
For much of his life, Croom has been a pioneer in terms of civil rights and race relations. Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he was part of the group of African-Americans who integrated his junior high school.
He was one of the first black football players at the University of Alabama, and then he made history as the first black head football coach at Mississippi State.
"It's just worked out in my career where I've had that opportunity to be the first African-American in a lot of situations," Croom said. "But it was never anything that was planned. It's just the way this life has gone for me, and the opportunities that I've been blessed with. In retrospect, I do take some pride in it, and some sacrifices that I've had to make along this way. But so does everybody else."
The task in St. Louis — getting the most out of Jackson — may not make history. But it's of critical importance if the Rams are going to have any chance for success this season.
"In order for him to move to the next level and establish himself as a premier player, something we talked about him doing is really understanding blocking schemes," Croom said. "What the defense is doing. How our offensive linemen are attacking the particular front.
"Because if you can anticipate the block, you can have a pretty good idea of where a hole is going to be, when it's going to open up, and get through it as soon as it opens."
And if Croom helps Jackson reach that point consistently as a runner, it will be a season's work well done.
Re: Old role could be just right to Croom
There have been several articles on Croom this offseason. Hopefully Steven Jackson is learning a lot from him that he can use in his career.
Re: Old role could be just right to Croom
Those last few lines are great, talking about getting Jax to anticipate the block and then get there as opposed to dancing around and looking for the hole. As we all know, that alone should help get a lot more out of the ground game, for Jax to just pick a hole and burn through it. It's all those hits in the backfield that kill drives and injure him.