Polk’s actions greatly tarnish his legacy

Published 12:46 am Sunday, June 8, 2008

You might remember a column I wrote back a few months ago when Mississippi State baseball coach Ron Polk decided to retire after 35 years of coaching.

I wrote then that despite the fact that the team was off to a horrible start to the season (and wound up finishing with MSU’s first losing record since 1975), Polk should be respected for all the good he has done for Mississippi State and the SEC in general.

After all, he did take the Bulldogs to six College World Series, and helped, along with Skip Bertman, bring baseball into the forefront in the SEC.

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Now, I only wish that’s how Polk would be remembered.

After his shameful actions of Friday, Polk will most likely be remembered as a egotistical, cranky old man who, when he didn’t get his way, pitched a temper tantrum like a 2-year-old and then took his ball and went home.

As anyone who has followed the situation knows, Polk wanted his top assistant Tommy Raffo to take over the head coaching position.

The only problem was that Raffo was in no way qualified to be the head baseball coach at Mississippi State.

Mississippi State may be a stepping stone job in most every sport, but in baseball, the tradition, fan support and facilities should be enough to draw very attractive head coaching candidates, like ones with previous head coaching experience.

Raffo spent 15 years as an assistant at MSU, never once venturing outside of his comfort zone at Polk’s side.

Predictably, new Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne wanted to set his sights higher, and began a national search, interviewing six candidates, before settling on Kentucky coach, and former MSU player, John Cohen.

Cohen was the man most Bulldog fans wanted anyway. He is a former player and took Kentucky from the laughingstock of the conference to the SEC regular season championship in just three years. He has also guided he Wildcats to postseason play two of the last three years.

However, that’s not good enough for Polk. In an interview with the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Polk said he wanted his name taken off the stadium and would take the university out of his will.

He also said he would call up former players who give to the university and encourage them to stop giving until Greg Byrne is “fired or run off.”

All of this would be quite comical if it weren’t so sad. Polk has taken his legacy as the greatest Mississippi State coach of all time and thrown it in the trash can in a matter of a couple of days, and all because he can’t bear the thought that he isn’t in control anymore.

Polk’s ego has always been immense. It’s part of what made him a great coach.

But now, it seems like he thinks he is bigger than the university. He wants to ram his man through, someone that he said he isn’t even sure if he is the right man for the job, just for the purpose of keeping some control.

I can’t think of another situation that compares to this: one of the great coaches of his given sport completely willing to disassociate himself from the university he served for so long because he didn’t like the coach that was hired after he retired.

Mississippi State doesn’t have a whole lot to celebrate in their athletic history.

It’s a shame that the one man that should be celebrated and admired by all Bulldog fans has seemingly done everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Jeff Edwards is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or jeff.edwards@natchezdemocrat.com.