John Cohen, who directed Mississippi State to a pair of NCAA regional tournament berths and a Southeastern Conference Tournament title over the past two seasons, is in his third decade in the collegiate coaching ranks and his fifth campaign as head baseball coach at Mississippi State University in 2013.
Regarded by many as one of the most innovative coaches in the collegiate baseball ranks, Cohen was introduced as MSU's 16th head baseball June 7, 2008, exactly 18 years to the day after leaving Omaha, Neb., and the 1990 NCAA College World Series following his final game as a Mississippi State player.
Cohen's return to Starkville, Miss., and Dudy Noble Field completed a success-filled and fast-paced circle that began when the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native first joined MSU's baseball family as a player in 1987. He returned to State in 2008 seasoned with 17 years of collegiate coaching experience, nine of those as a collegiate head coach. Immediately prior to his return to Starkville Cohen enjoyed a successful five-year run as head coach at Southeastern Conference Eastern Division rival Kentucky.
The MSU skipper, an All-Southeastern Conference outfielder during his playing career at Mississippi State, enters his 13th season as a collegiate head coach in 2013 with a 447-307-1 career coaching mark, 126-111 in his first four seasons at Mississippi State.
Including previous career coaching assignments on the collegiate level at Missouri (1992-97), Northwestern (La.) State (1998-2001), Florida (2002-03) and Kentucky (2004-08), Cohen has been associated with teams over the past 21 seasons that have piled up 715 wins while producing more than 100 draft selections and 17 All-Americans.
His prowess as one of the nation's top hitting instructors has mounted with each step along the way in his coaching career. That coaching expertise gained nationwide attention in 2006 when, in his third season at the University of Kentucky, he guided the Wildcats to a remarkable worst-to-first finish in the rugged Southeastern Conference. That season Kentucky posted a school-best 44-win season, captured the school's first league baseball crown and brought the first NCAA regional baseball tournament to a Lexington campus noted more for its hoops prominence. With 13 top 10 draft picks over a three-year span, the Wildcats virtually rewrote the Kentucky record book, powered by the likes of All-American standout and SEC Player of the Year Ryan Strieby and All-SEC performers John Shelby and Sean Coughlin.
Cohen's coaching efforts did not go unnoticed. He was accorded national coach of the year honors by both the College Baseball Foundation and CollegeBaseballInsider.com. And, for the third time in his career, he was tabbed by his peers for conference coach of the year accolades.
At Mississippi State Cohen has assembled a well-respected and highly-skilled coaching staff featuring coaches well-versed in Mississippi State's colorful baseball tradition, the Magnolia State's high school and junior college programs, and the nation's top college baseball league, the highly-competitive Southeastern Conference.
All the while Cohen has continued to lay and build upon a strong foundation for success on the diamond at Mississippi State.
Mississippi State, annually one of the nation's leaders in college baseball attendance, has registered four of its top six all-time marks in baseball season ticket sales during Cohen's tenure, including a school-record 5,632 in 2010. In a program initiated at State by Cohen, many of those tickets are hand-delivered by MSU players to Starkville patrons each year. Cohen also organized "The Dudes", a new student support group for baseball designed to grow the Mississippi State baseball fan base among the student population at Mississippi State.
Mississippi State players have received All-Southeastern Conference recognition in each of Cohen's four years at State while 14 Diamond Dogs have had their names called during Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft conducted the past four years.
In the all-important recruiting realm, Cohen's first three recruiting classes at State garnered high national acclaim. His 2009 MSU recruiting class was ranked as the nation's eighth-best by Baseball America, the highest such ranking for a State baseball recruiting class since 2000 while his second recruiting class, featuring five drafted players, four prep All-Americans, and three players honored as their state's player of the year, was ranked 18th.
On the facilities front, Mississippi State's already-impressive baseball plant has seen upgrades and improvements totaling more $2 million in recent years.
Expanded dugouts, all-new drainage and irrigation systems covered by a new carpet of natural turf and a renovation of the locker room and team areas are among the initial facility upgrades.
The concrete grandstand, which when completed in 1987 triggered a parade of baseball facility upgrades throughout the SEC and beyond, was resurfaced and fashioned with all-new chairback seating prior to the 2011 campaign. The most recent enhancements include a stadium-wide sound system and digital message board on the scoreboard.
Cohen maintains a strong commitment to excellence in the classroom, and three times over the past four years the Diamond Dogs have established records for highest grade points averages. The team's 2012 fall term GPA climbed to a program-best 3.36. Mississippi State's wide lead in all-time academic all-conference awards has grown during Cohen's term at State, with 66 selections to the SEC Academic Honor Roll in four seasons. In addition, 23 MSU freshmen received SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll status the past three seasons. Following the 2012 campaign, pitcher Chris Stratton, a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants, became the 17th Diamond Dogs to receive Academic All-America team selection.
Continuing a trademark that has grown during his coaching career, Cohen is a highly sought-after featured speaker and clinician. He has traversed the nation sharing his expertise at numerous baseball clinics in 30 states, including a speaking engagement at the 2010 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, his third appearance before that body since 2002.
Cohen has also shared his baseball expertise through his recently-released instructional video "All Access With John Cohen", a top-selling production featuring three full days of Mississippi State baseball practice.
Since arriving at Mississippi State, Cohen has maintained a full schedule of speaking engagements at alumni gatherings, civic organization meetings and at baseball banquets on a variety of levels throughout the Magnolia State and beyond.
Cohen, the fifth Mississippi State grad to serve as head baseball coach at State, is one of three current Southeastern Conference head baseball coaches coaching at his alma mater and he's a member of an elite corps of college coaches who have played in the NCAA College World Series.
Cohen, 46, is married to the former Nelle Bashinsky, also from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and they have two daughters - Jordan Baker and Avery Lawson.
COHEN THE DIAMOND DOG
Mississippi State skipper John Cohen wears a No. 11 baseball jersey. It's the same number he wore during his successful collegiate career as a player at State.
Cohen was an accomplished two-sport prep athlete at Tuscaloosa Academy, earning all-state honors in both baseball and basketball. His TA hoops teams won three straight state titles and a school-record 100 consecutive games. But it was on the baseball diamond as a four-year regular playing for coach Don McNabb that Cohen excelled.
He capped his prep career with a stellar senior season in 1985, the same year that, 90 miles away, the likes of Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen were leading MSU's Baseball Bulldogs to a school-best third-place finish in the NCAA College World Series.
He inked with Birmingham-Southern following his prep career, and as a rookie started in center field for the Panthers, hitting at a crisp .333 clip and earning team defensive MVP honors. On April 24 that season Cohen made his Dudy Noble Field debut in a Birmingham-Southern uniform, delivering a double, a triple and driving in three runs in a split of a Mississippi State-Birmingham-Southern doubleheader in Starkville.
Cohen transferred to State that fall, sitting out the 1987 campaign as a redshirt before beginning his Diamond Dog career playing under legendary MSU head coach Ron Polk.
He was a key contributor during the most successful three-year span in MSU's storied baseball history. The Bulldogs advanced to an NCAA regional tournament berth in each of Cohen's three seasons as a player, capped by a run to Omaha and the 1990 NCAA College World Series. In 1989, he helped lead the Bulldogs to the SEC championship and a school-record 54 wins. During that span the Bulldogs compiled a 148-46 record (.763) that included two of the program's three 50-win campaigns.
Cohen concluded his career ranked in the top 10 in several statistical categories at Mississippi State and earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference distinction as a senior. He was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 22nd round of the 1990 Major League Baseball Draft and played two years in the Twins' minor league system.
COHEN THE COACH
In the fall of 1991 Cohen launched his coaching career in Columbia, Mo., where he joined coach Gene McArtor's University of Missouri baseball coaching staff as a graduate assistant. When Tim Jamieson followed McArtor as the Tigers' head coach after the 1995 campaign, he tabbed Cohen as his chief assistant, hitting coach and recruiting coordinator.
That season, Missouri won the Big Eight championship and advanced to an NCAA regional berth for the first time in 16 years. The Tigers broke nine offensive school records that season, part of 17 total records set by Cohen's offenses over his six years in Columbia.
Following the 1997 season, Cohen headed to Natchitoches, La., for his first head coaching assignment, a four-year term at Northwestern State. His two predecessors at Northwestern State served as head coaches in the Southeastern Conference --- Arkansas' Dave Van Horn and former Alabama skipper Jim Wells.
Under Cohen, the Demons compiled a 146-84 (.635) mark and claimed a pair of Southland Conference titles (1998 and 2001). He was named the Southland Conference Coach of the Year during both championship seasons.
His well-rounded clubs set 18 individual and team offensive records during his tenure, while his pitching staff set 10 school marks. The 1998 team posted the nation's fifth-best team earned run average (3.82) while the 1999 edition fashioned college baseball's seventh-best fielding percent-age (.967). His NSU baseball teams also excelled in the classroom, averaging 18 players with grade-point averages of 3.0 or better each semester while notching 3.0 team GPA's in both 1998 and 1999.
Cohen also spearheaded a highly-successful fund-raising campaign for Northwestern State's baseball facility, Brown-Stroud Field. The ball park's grandstand seating increased from 298 to 1,000. All of those seats and then some were needed on April 18, 2001 when a school-record 4,214 fans watched Cohen's Demons knock off defending-national champion LSU.
Cohen further established himself as one of college baseball's best hitting coaches during a successful two-year stint at the University of Florida as an assistant coach on the staff of Gator head coach and former MSU skipper Pat McMahon. While in Gainesville, his UF hitters pulverized opposing pitching and led the SEC in nearly every offensive statistical category. The 2002 Gator offense led the nation in hits while ranking second in batting average, runs scored and home runs. That year, Florida paced the SEC in nine team categories and set or tied a total of 41 offensive school records (20 team, 21 individual) en route to a 46-19 finish and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
At Florida, Cohen coached a pair of consensus All-Americans who hit .400 and score more than 100 runs each, Mark Kiger and SEC batting champ Pat Osborn. Cohen's balanced UF offense also included five players hitting 10 or more home runs.
In the 2003 season, Florida's high-octane offense paced the SEC in five offensive categories. For the second straight year two Gators finished in the top five in the league in batting average and Brian Rose became the third Gator to earn All-America honors under Cohen's tutelage. Bolstered by its tremendous offense, Florida earned its second consecutive NCAA regional tournament berth.
Cohen's time away from the head coaching circle was brief. After two record-setting campaigns at Florida Cohen was hired as head coach at the University of Kentucky in 2003. After a 24-30 finish in his first season at UK (2004), the Wildcats reeled off four straight winning campaigns. In five seasons as the Wildcats' taskmaster, Cohen guided Kentucky to unprecedented success on the diamond, guiding his teams to a 175-113-1 (.607) record while developing Kentucky into a major player on the national scene.
Cohen's 2006 Wildcat edition turned many heads when it rolled to a 44-17 mark, the school's first Southeastern Conference baseball championship, and registered SEC baseball's first worst-to-first one-season turnaround in baseball. For his efforts Cohen received national and SEC coach of the year plaudits in 2006, a season in which Kentucky hosted its initial NCAA regional tournament.
That 2006 UK team piled up a school-record 500 runs. His 2007 club hit for a stellar .320 average, just one point shy of the UK school record, led the SEC in eight offensive categories and ranked third nationally in home runs and slugging percentage.
The record-breaking parade continued in 2008 when UK raced to a 19-0 start and a top five national ranking. Kentucky matched its school-best win total with a 44-19 finish and for the second time during Cohen's term in Lexington, advanced to an NCAA regional tournament.
Cohen returned Mississippi State to the NCAA postseason scene in 2011. State rang up a 38-25 worksheet, sweeping three games in winning the NCAA Atlanta Regional and then extending No. 2 national seed Florida in a three-game Super Regional series in Gainesville. A year later the 2012 Diamond Dogs won the SEC Baseball Tournament, State's seventh SECT title, and went on to compete in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional. The Bulldogs registered a 40-24 record for the program's 18th 40-win campaign and State's first since 2005.
THE JOHN COHEN FILE