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59 Days 'Till Kickoff: Sylvester Croom - a quiet Alabama and SEC pioneer

Today, less than two months until the Crimson Tide kickoff the 2016 campaign, we celebrate Sylvester Croom, an Alabama and SEC pioneer.

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Sylvester Croom is about as Alabama as it gets.

A Tuscaloosa native, and two-way star at Tuscaloosa High School (tight end and linebacker,) Sly was recruited in Bear’s third integrated class (1971) at a time when the team was undergoing a radical transformation — and it wasn’t just black and white either.

Required to sit out a year by NCAA regulations, Croom would prove to be a pivotal player in the Tide’s adoption of the Wishbone. Over the next three years, finally eligible, No. 59 Croom played tight end, linebacker, and would eventually find a home dominating at center for Alabama, even as Alabama dominated the SEC.

Sylvester Croom would earn three SEC championships, a national title, the Jacobs blocking trophy, and finally Kodak All-American honors in 1974. As a senior, he was designated a permanent team captain, and his hand prints and cleats can still be found on the Quad.

But, it is as a coach that Croom cemented his legacy as an Alabama pioneer and legend. Following one season in the NFL, Sylvester became Coach Croom in Tuscaloosa, where he spent 11 seasons under Coach Bryant and Perkins, working his way up the ranks from a grad assistant to coaching centers and then the linebackers.

Then, after a successful 15-year run coaching running backs in the NFL, Croom was a sought-after prospect for two reeling SEC programs: the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. He would interview for both in 2003, and later that year would become the first black head football coach in SEC history.

While Croom did not have much success at the perpetually-moribund program, he did see his share of meaningful victories, including winning back-to-back games over his alma mater and a 17-point, 4th quarter rally to win the Egg Bowl (at a time when Ole Miss was still proudly waving Confederate flags and using Colonel Reb imagery.)

From being the first black offensive line starter on one of the first fully-integrated Alabama teams, to becoming the SEC’s first black head football coach, this son of a Civil Rights leader has quietly made an impact of his own, not only at the University, but in blazing trails that helped make the present diverse coaching landscape possible.

59 days until Kickoff. Roll Tide.