Hall of Famer Sylvester Croom: ‘Not enough progress’ for Black coaches

black college football coaches
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LAS VEGAS — Sylvester Croom had a Hall of Fame career as an offensive lineman at Alabama, and was among the first Black players to become a star and team leader under coach Bear Bryant.

Three decades later, Croom became the Southeastern Conference’s first Black head football coach with Mississippi State. That was 2004. Since then, there have only been four others and currently there are no Black head football coaches in the SEC.

During this season’s still spinning hiring cycle, there have been 16 major college football head coaching vacancies filled. Colorado with Deion Sanders is the only school to hire a Black coach.

“No, there’s definitely not enough progress,” Croom told The Associated Press on Tuesday after a news conference with the new College Football Hall of Fame class.

“It’s almost 20 years now, and the fact that we still have to have these conversations is disappointing and it’s frustrating. But at the same time, we still have to shed light on the situation as it is and find ways to change it because a lot of good people are being denied opportunities to coach and to lead and to motivate other people. We want to get the best people. …. And doors should not be closed to them simply because of the color of their skin,” he said.

Croom was one of 18 former players being inducted into the Hall of Fame by the National Football Foundation on Tuesday night at its awards dinner.

Former Colorado star Rashaan Salaam, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1994, was inducted posthumously and represented by his mother, Khalada Salaam-Alaji.

Rashaan Salaam took his own life in 2017.

“He has received so many accolades and this really caps it off,” she said.

The rest of the class included: LaVar Arrington of Penn State; Champ Bailey of Georgia; Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech; Mike Doss of Ohio State; Chuck Ealey of Toledo; Kevin Faulk of LSU; Moe Gardner of Illinois; Boomer Grigsby of Illinois State; Mike Hass of Oregon State; Marvin Jones of Florida State; Andrew Luck of Stanford; Mark Messner of Michigan; Terry Miller of Oklahoma State; Dennis Thomas of Alcorn State; Zach Wiegert of Nebraska; and Roy Williams of Oklahoma.

The coaches inducted were John Luckhardt who was a head coach for nearly 30 years at Washington & Jefferson and California University of Pennsylvania; Billy Jack Murphy of Memphis; and Gary Pinkel, who led Toledo and Missouri.

Croom, 68, coached five years at Mississippi State, taking over a program that was headed toward NCAA sanctions at the time. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native went 21-38 and had one winning season.

Larry Templeton, the former Mississippi State athletic director who hired Croom, said he didn’t know Croom until he interviewed him but he had gotten glowing recommendations. Templeton said he was looking for a coach with unimpeachable integrity and Croom, who had spent years as an NFL assistant, met that criteria.

Templeton said he believes athletic directors and university presidents have become so risk averse when it comes to hiring a football coach, it limits their searches.

“They’re wanting a proven commodity,” Templeton said.

The latest FBS school to fill a head coaching vacancy was UNLV, which on Tuesday announced it had hired Arkansas defensive coordinator and former Missouri head coach Barry Odom, who is white.

Croom pointed to the NFL, which has also struggled with lack of minority head coaches but has put policies in place to at least try to address the issue.

“There has to be a continued dialogue from conference commissioners,” Croom said. “I definitely think my hiring at Mississippi State was a result of a push by Commissioner (Mike) Slive to make changes and his talking not only to athletic directors, but to presidents and boards of trustees. I think that originated from him.”

Croom said he has been impressed from afar with the job Sanders did at Jackson State and is dismayed by the criticism Coach Prime has gotten for seemingly using the historically Black school in Mississippi as a stepping stone to a bigger job.

Sanders spent three season at Jackson State, winning Southwestern Athletic Conference titles this year and last.

“He’s earned this opportunity and I think his success has helped Jackson State, has helped the HBCU community, on and off the football field,” Croom said.

Croom was among the first Black players recruited to play at Alabama by Bryant. That change helped re-ignite the Crimson Tide.

From 1972-74, Croom played center on teams that finished in the top-10 every year and won three SEC championships. He was a team captain his senior year.

“The key to it was Coach Bryant,” Croom said with a smile, “because we were afraid to lose.”

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields


ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.