Mississippi St. hires former Kentucky coach Cohen

Published 6:15 pm Friday, June 6, 2008

JACKSON (AP) — John Cohen will be returning home to Mississippi State as its new baseball coach.

A spokesman confirmed the hire to The Associated Press late Friday afternoon after Cohen resigned at Kentucky. Mississippi State will hold a news conference Saturday to introduce its new coach.

The former Mississippi State player led Kentucky to a regional appearance this year and was considered a top candidate for the job after Ron Polk announced his retirement this spring.

Email newsletter signup

Cohen, 41, did not immediately return messages left on his cell phone.

A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Cohen has coached at Kentucky since 2004 after serving as an assistant at Florida. He was 175-112-1 with the Wildcats and has an overall record of 321-196-1 in nine years at Kentucky and Northwestern (La.) State. He was also an assistant at Florida and Missouri.

Incoming Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne, who made the hire, was out of the office and unavailable for comment. Byrne and Cohen are familiar with each other from their days together at Florida. This is the first hire for Byrne, who doesn’t officially take over for Larry Templeton until July.

Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said Cohen told him Friday morning he was resigning to take another job. Barnhart promoted associate head coach Gary Henderson later Friday to replace Cohen.

Polk resigned in March after 35 years as a head coach, 30 of which were at Mississippi State, where he helped popularize the sport of college baseball. The coach said his main reason for leaving was that he no longer wished to deal with the NCAA, which instituted several rules changes that Polk believes will gut the sport.

His teams won five SEC titles, five SEC tournament championships and made 23 trips to the postseason — eight to the College World Series. He finished at No. 7 on the career victories list with 1,373 wins, but suffered his first losing season this spring.

Polk openly stumped for longtime assistant Tommy Raffo as his replacement. He said if the school hired Raffo, also a former Polk player, he would stick around and help with the transition. Polk was in Athens for the Super Regional between North Carolina State and Georgia and was unavailable for comment.

Cohen played for Polk from 1987-90 and finished his career as a first-team all-SEC outfielder. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins, but after two years in the minor leagues he moved on to Missouri, where he was an assistant for six seasons before taking over at Northwestern State.

Mississippi State made four straight regional appearances, won at least a share of three SEC titles and made one trip to the College World Series during Cohen’s playing days.

The Bulldogs hope Cohen can bring that kind of success again. He put together one of the most successful runs in Kentucky history and his first recruiting class finished with a school-record 151 wins.

The Wildcats set a team mark with 44 wins this season and broke the school record in nine offensive and defensive categories.