Let’s be honest. Not every Southeastern Conference school has a football coach that fans and alumni can be proud to call their own.
Big money is being thrown around these days at coaches who arrive under less than admirable circumstances. Sometimes, it’s disgusting to observe.
Something good happened in the SEC recently, however, when Mississippi State presented Coach Sylvester Croom with a four-year contract extension that runs through the 2011 season.
Croom, who guided the surprising Bulldogs to an 8-5 record last year, will now receive $1.7 million in 2008, a 74-percent increase over what he took home in 2007.
Hats off to Mississippi State. Croom is not only reviving a lifeless program, he is, by all accounts, going about his business in a respectable way and seems committed to the task at hand. He’s not likely to slink off to another job in the darkness of night for a few more bucks.
You have to feel good for Croom, who was passed over the head coaching job at Alabama (his alma mater) in 2003 when he should have been hired and received a hero’s welcome home. Shortly thereafter, he became the first African-American head coach in SEC history when he took over at Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs are now competitive and command respect. Think of where this program was just a few short years ago in both categories, and it’s easy to understand why so many cheer for Croom.
“We’ve come a long way in the last four years in terms of making a commitment of making a championship program and doing things the right way,” he told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger after receiving the contract extension. “We’re not where some of the other schools are, but I think we’ve made a huge, huge improvement and I am totally satisfied with the financial package for myself and for my assistant coaches as well, and the commitment that the university has made.”
Despite his salary raise, Croom still ranks only ninth in the SEC in annual pay. His recent bump in pay pushed him ahead of Kentucky’s Rich Brooks.
On a related note, a December report by the USA Today revealed that the average salary for a Division I football coach topped $1 million for the first time last season. In 1999, only five coaches received $1 million or more per year.
ALL BARK: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted this week that there have rarely been better days than these for University of Georgia athletics.
The Bulldogs baseball team is currently competing for the College World series title. The men’s basketball team came out of nowhere in March to win the SEC Tournament and gain an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The football team capped an 11-2 season in January with a beatdown of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.
All told, UGA’s various teams have 11 top-10 finishes during this academic calendar season.
Don’t look now, but many are pegging Georgia to be the nation’s No. 1 football team this coming season.
HARD TIMES: It hasn't been a good week for the football program at Alabama.
On Tuesday, projected starting linebacker Jimmy Johns was dismissed from the team after being arrested on drug charges. Police say Johns sold cocaine to undercover officers on five separate occasions.
"This type of behavior obviously will not be tolerated and he is no longer a part of our program," Tide coach Nick Saban said in a statement.
In addition, the career of cornerback Lionel Mitchell, who started 10 games over the past two seasons, appears to have ended due to lower-back problems.
Mitchell played in 27 games and intercepted four passes in 2006. He was the defender on a controversial play last season in which Ole Miss receiver Shay Hodge was ruled out of bounds on a last-second pass that could have helped the Rebels upset the Crimson Tide.
Alabama held on for a 27-24 win.
BIG PLANS: Former Major League pitcher John Pawlowski was recently hired as new baseball coach at Auburn and immediately began talking about winning championships.
He won four Southern Conference championships in nine seasons at the College of Charleston and should be a breath of fresh air for the Tigers, who have not played in the SEC Tournament since 2003.
Pawlowski played eight seasons in the major leagues for the White Sox, California Angels and Baltimore Orioles.
TAKING OVER: Former Kentucky star point guard Sean Woods was named head basketball coach at Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday. He had most recently been an assistant at TCU.
Woods is best known for hitting a shot that put Kentucky ahead of Duke in a 1992 NCAA Tournament game before Duke's Christian Laettner answered with a buzzer-beating shot to eliminate the Wildcats.
Brett Hait covers Vanderbilt athletics and the Southeastern Conference for The City Paper. He can be reached at email@example.com.