What in bloody hell are you thinking?! I’ll get back to that.
Exactly 18 years to the day after closing out his Mississippi State baseball career in Omaha, John Cohen returned home to replace the retired Ron Polk as the Bulldogs’ head baseball coach.
Ron Polk announced his retirement in March of this season and strongly advocated for incoming athletic director Greg Byrne to hire longtime assistant Tommy Raffo to take over the program. Raffo played with Cohen in the 90′s and has been an assistant in Starkville for the last 14 years. He no doubt knows the program, the families, the administration, the fan base, the camps, etc… The question about Raffo has never been his knowledge of the program. It’s always been a matter of should he be tapped as the man to take over one of the nation’s elite baseball programs.
Byrne has said all along that he would consider Raffo for the job, but he also made it clear his charge was to find the best candidate for the job and that meant searching not only at home but nationally. In the end, Byrne talked to some six different candidates, four of whom have head coaching experience at programs that regularly compete in the post-season. I don’t know if Raffo would have done a good job as the head man or not, but I would rather hire someone who has already been successful as a head coach. Getting someone from the State family would just be gravy.
I think Byrne absolutely got it right with Cohen.
- He played in three regionals and a College World Series at State
- He was a first-team All-SEC player his senior year
- He ranks in the top 10 in several career records at State
- He was an assistant at Missouri from 1992-97. After just three years as a straight-out-of-college assistant coach at Missouri, Cohen was promoted as the Tigers hitting coach and recruiting coordinator. In ’96, the Tigers won the Big Eight championship and played in an NCAA regional for the first time in 16 years. That year the Tigers broke nine offensive records and 17 overall in Cohen’s six years on the staff.
- He was the head coach at baseball factory Northwestern State in Louisiana for four seasons. In that span, Cohen lead the Demons to two Southland Conference titles and was named conference coach of the year twice. Under Cohen’s watch, the Demons set 18 team and individual offensive records and 10 pitching records.
- As proof that he does not overlook the importance of academics, Cohen’s Northwestern State teams averaged 18 student-athletes per semester with GPA’s of 3.0 or better.
- In his two years at Florida as the Gators’ hitting instructor, Cohen’s offenses terrorized opposing pitching staffs. In 2002, his offense lea the nation in hits and was second nationally in batting average, runs scored, and home runs. That year, Florida led the SEC in nine offensive categories and set or tied 41 (20 team, 21 individual) school offensive records.
- In 2003, Cohen’s offense produced numbers similar to the 2002 squad.
- He’s coached four league batting champions.
- In his five seasons as the head coach at Kentucky, Cohen transformed a conference doormat into a contender for post-season play. His Kentucky teams posted two 44-win seasons, played in two regionals, and won a conference championship. In the 100+ years of Kentucky baseball before Cohen’s arrival, the Wildcats had never won a conference championship and had only been to regionals three times.
- Cohen was named the 2006 SEC Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year by the College Baseball Foundation and collegebaseballinsider.com.
- His 2006 Wildcats scored a school-record 500 runs. His 2007 squad had a .320 batting average.
- In reviving Kentucky baseball, Cohen produced the SEC’s first ever worst-to-first turnaround in 2006.
- Cohen’s 2008 squad produced school records in fielding percentage (.974), putouts (1687), at bats (2157), runs scored (510), doubles (152), RBI (461), sacrifce bunts (75), sacrifice flies (38), and innings pitched (563).
- The list just keeps going…
If you want to contrast that with Raffo’s resume:
- Raffo played in the regionals all four years at State and played in a College World Series.
- He was a first-team All-American and All-SEC player.
- As State’s hitting instructor, the Bulldogs have hit .300 or better 10 of the last 12 years, including a school record .335 in 1999.
- He ranks in the top-10 of most school offensive records.
- State has played in regionals 11 of the 14 years Raffo has been on the coaching staff, and has played in three College World Series.
- In 2006, Raffo’s coaching help Thomas Berkery and MSU career hits leader Jeffrey Rea finish 1-2 in batting average in the SEC. In 2007, Brandon Turner was second in the conference.
That is the extent of Raffo’s coaching resume. Oh yeah…. Raffo has all that program experience at State, too, something that isn’t likely to be listed in your bio. But look at the results. Everywhere Cohen has been, tremendous success has followed. Who would you have hired if you were Greg Byrne?
I tuned into the press conference introducing Cohen and was impressed with what the man had to say. By the way, you can view the archived video or read the transcript here. He paid homage to the late Paul “Bear” Bryant and took his hat off indoors, something that will no doubt be passed down to his players. It’s a simple gesture, I know, but the little things add up.
In describing his style of baseball and what to expect from his teams, Cohen let it be known that his teams would play an aggressive, attacking style of baseball that will constantly pressure the defense to either make the plays or make mistakes. His players will play hard every single play. There will be no down-to-the-minute scripted practices. If it takes a whole practice to get something worked out, then so be it. If it only takes a few minutes, that’s great. The team will work until the goals are achieved. He followed that up by saying that if he has players that are not interested in that kind of work or focus, they won’t like having him for a coach.
When asked about his expectations, he made the statement that anything short of Omaha is a disappointment. He then took it a step further and said that just making it to Omaha is not enough. State has been to many regionals and has been to Omaha a number of times. There’s only one thing left to do: win it all. That is his expectation. Mighty strong statement there.
But Cohen’s wife Nelle may have said it best of all. When she was telling her sister that John was going to take the job at Mississippi State her sister asked her why. Nelle’s response was an analogy to music. She said you know how every musician wants to play Carnegie Hall? Well, Mississippi State is the Carnegie Hall of college baseball.
Now to Coach Polk….
It’s admirable to back a longtime assistant and advocate for him to get the job, but what Polk has done in the wake of Cohen being hired is nothing but crybaby bullshit.
Unfortunately, our new athletic director slapped me in face and punched me in the stomach. He also slapped Tommy Raffo in the face and punched him in the stomach after 15 years of loyalty to Mississippi State. He did the same to our players, their parents and signees. I think I have more knowledge about the game than young Mr. Byrne.
I want my name taken off the stadium and in the concourse until Greg Byrne is fired. And if they don’t do it, I will. And as soon as I get back to Starkville, I’m going to make sure the MSU Foundation is taken out of my will. And that’s a lot of money. I’m going to ask former players who give to quit. If you’re asking if I’m mad, then yes. I’m mad.
I was up front with John Cohen, Pat Casey, Steve Smith all along. If Joe Torre got the job, I wouldn’t support him. I know more about Mississippi State baseball than anyone. Greg Byrne doesn’t know anything. Well, he’s about to find out what my name means.
I love John, he’s a former player, but he knew how I felt. And when he walks into his new office, there will only be a desk and chair. No papers on the players or anything. I don’t like what’s done, but I guess he really wanted this job very bad. Good luck.
Is this a good job? I don’t know. Kentucky has the lottery and we don’t. But I’ll tell you one thing, Greg Byrne may be the athletic director, but I’m the athletic director for baseball. I’ve been there for 31 years, and no one is more loyal than me.
Do you think Vince Dooley is glad he listened to me. Look what Dave Perno has done with Georgia and he’s close to getting them back to the world series. But with this hire, Greg Byrne has thrown 15 years away of Tommy’s coaching life and the four years he has played here. Is he the best candidate, I don’t know. I say give him four years. If he doesn’t get the job done, then fire him. But no, Greg Byrne wanted to make a splash. But he’s not a Mississippi State guy, and doesn’t understand what MSU baseball is all about. His honeymoon is over. He blew it.
Wow. Just… wow.
Coach Polk, you may know more about baseball than Byrne, but you’re being a child about this. Where should we begin?
The amount of baseball knowledge you have does not equate to the amount of authority you have in hiring someone to replace yourself. That’s not your job. That is the athletic director’s job. You were the head baseball coach, not the athletic director.
Demanding to have your name taken off of the building is probably the stupidest thing you’ve said. First, your name was put there to honor the years of service and success you had at Mississippi State. It was not your decision to put your name on the stadium, nor will it be your decision to take it off. If your demand is granted and your name removed, can you imagine what you would have to do to get it put back up again? Think about that, coach.
So, Greg Byrne is about to find out what your name means, huh? I assure you Byrne knows more about you than you’ll ever know, but that does not mean you get to dictate to your boss who he hires to replace you. He took your recommendation and interviewed Raffo along with the other candidates. Raffo wasn’t the man for the job.
You were the athletic director for baseball? Really? Apparently nobody knew that because it wasn’t your job title. And if nobody has been more loyal to you, why did you take your ball and go home whining the first time you retired only to go to another school? That wasn’t loyalty, coach.
You talked to John Cohen a number of times and knew he wanted the job. You told him you loved him but…. but… you wouldn’t support anyone other than Tommy Raffo. For someone who wants to preach about loyalty, do you not see the irony here, coach? You’re throwing loyalty under the bus when you disrespect Cohen by saying that. One of your former players at that.
You could have gone out on top, coach. Think about it. You’re freakin’ Ron Polk. You’re a living legend and a God around Starkville. Your name is on the baseball stadium. You’re one of the winningest coaches in NCAA baseball history. You could be strolling around campus laughing it up in retirement and would probably have the best seats in the stadium for life. Kids and adult-kids would still want an autograph and a picture with you.
But you’re in danger of throwing all of that away with your childish temper tantrums and threats. Do what’s right. Apologize for acting like a complete jackass. Support and embrace John Cohen as one of your former players coming home to take MSU baseball to the next level. And support Tommy Raffo as he searches for his next stop in his coaching career.
It’s not too late.