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Gameday arrives for Croom

Coach finally can focus on the field

Associated Press

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Sylvester Croom spent his summer answering the same pesky questions and downplaying his place in history.

That's all over now. After an exhausting offseason of explaining his social significance, the Southeastern Conference's first black head football coach is ready to start the season and rebuild Mississippi State.

The new era beings Saturday against Tulane.

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"I do feel good ... that my life has made an impact," Croom said. "But right now, the most important thing is our players, their welfare and winning ball games."

Croom is one of 10 coaches working their first games with new teams as the college football season begins around most of the country this weekend.

Among the other intriguing debuts are Bill Callahan and his West Coast offense at Nebraska; Mike Stoops, brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, at Arizona; and Mark Dantonio, who leads Cincinnati on Saturday against Ohio State, where he was defensive coordinator for three seasons.

Mike Price's return to college coaching at Texas-El Paso was a losing one Thursday night, with Arizona State routing the Miners 41-9. The former Washington State coach was fired last year by Alabama before ever coaching a game after a night of drinking at a strip bar.

Another coach done in by a scandal, George O'Leary, has had his debut with Central Florida postponed. He will miss Saturday's game at No. 21 Wisconsin to attend his mother's funeral. O'Leary was fired by Notre Dame in 2001 for lying on his resume.

Mississippi State officials said they weren't out to make a social statement when they hired Croom as Jackie Sherrill's replacement last December. They simply wanted a coach who they thought could break the program's free fall; the Bulldogs have lost 27 of their last 35 games.

Croom brought discipline to Starkville, and persuaded the players to buy into his receiver-friendly West Coast offense, which he developed during 17 years as an NFL assistant.

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