Packers hire new running backs' coach
Wednesday, January 31, 2001
Green Bay News-Chronicle

By Doug Ritchay

Sylvester Croom hasn't analyzed the running back position for the Green Bay Packers because he has been too busy unpacking.

But Green Bay's new running backs' coach knows this: Ahman Green had a breakthrough season in 2000, leading the Packers with 1,175 rushing yards, 73 receptions and 13 touchdowns, and Dorsey Levens has been a productive player when healthy.

Croom doesn't know, though, who the Packers' starting running back will be in 2001. There is a chance, if Levens renegotiates his contract (he is slated to count $7.4 million against the salary cap), the Packers will use both Green and Levens in the backfield.

But ask any running back about sharing the load, and most will say they need a lot of carries to develop a rhythm.

Hence, Croom may have a dilemma to deal with, but he said it's too early to worry about that.

"Always with backs, everywhere I've been, they've always wanted carries," Croom said. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. I know they're very good players. I look forward to working with them." Croom gets this opportunity because last season's running backs coach, Kippy Brown, left the Packers to become the head coach of the Memphis Maniax of the XFL.

From what he knows of Green, Croom is impressed.

"The quickness and change of direction," said Croom, who will enter his 15th season of coaching in the NFL. "There's also a toughness for a young player that's surprising.

"When Dorsey was injured everybody thought the running game was going to suffer tremendously. Then Ahman came in and did a real fine job." Croom isn't familiar with Levens' injury problems, and the coach said he isn't going to worry about them.

"I don't know all the details of Dorsey's injuries," Croom said. "I'll let Ron (Wolf) and Mike (Sherman) worry about that right now.

I'm just going to try to learn the offense and coach whoever is here." Before Croom, 46, came to Green Bay, he was the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator, but he was fired by Lions' head coach Gary Moeller after the season. Moeller was later fired by Matt Millen, who was hired as the Lions' president and CEO.

In four seasons, the Lions' offensive ranking with Croom fell each season. In 1997, the Lions' offense ranked second and then dropped to 14th, 21st and 27th.

The fall in the rankings was not a big surprise when you consider the last two seasons Croom didn't have the NFL's second-leading rusher of all-time, running back Barry Sanders, who retired after the 1998 season. Plus, quarterback Charlie Batch, wide receivers Herman Moore and Germane Crowell, and several members of the offensive line suffered through injuries during that time.

"I never made excuses about the injuries," said Croom, who was running backs coach previously at Tampa Bay (1987-90), Indianapolis (1991) and San Diego (1992-96). "We thought Batch was going to have a great year. The injury to Germane Crowell limited our big-play potential. We had a lot of things we had to deal with."

It contributed to the Lions missing the playoffs when all they had to do to earn a playoff spot was defeat Chicago at Detroit in the final game of the season.

"We still should have made the playoffs," Croom said. "We had the Chicago Bears at home. We didn't win. That's not good. You have to win at home in that situation. The injuries were a factor in our lack of offense ... but those are the kind of things you can't make excuses about. The game's still going to be played."

Before Croom accepted the Packers' position, he interviewed for offensive coordinator positions with other teams. But he is not disappointed about coming to Green Bay.

"The first thing that impressed me was the tradition of the Green Bay Packers," Croom said. "I played here many times. I was fortunate enough to play at the University of Alabama under coach (Bear) Bryant, and this is the only place I've gone to in the league where I actually get goose bumps, even on the opposing sideline.

"When I walked into that end zone, on the far end, all I could think about was the Cowboy game and the famed 'Ice Bowl.' I got goose bumps. I remember watching that game on TV. When I came into this town and walked around the offices, it made me feel like I was back at the University of Alabama again."

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