John Cohen, who has directed Mississippi State to the NCAA Tournament in four of his last five seasons, including a program-record runner-up finish in the 2013 College World Series, is in his third decade in the collegiate coaching ranks and his eighth campaign as head coach in Starkville. Cohen, wherever he has been, has proven himself as a rebuilder of programs, a coach capable of sustaining success, winning championships and developing both players and people.
Regarded by many as one of the most innovative coaches in collegiate baseball, Cohen was introduced as MSU’s 16th head baseball coach on June 7, 2008, exactly 18 years to the day after leaving Omaha, Nebraska, and the 1990 NCAA College World Series following his final game as a MSU player. He has since become one of eight coaches in history to lead his alma mater to the NCAA College World Series as both a player and a coach. Of State’s four 50-win teams, Cohen has been the head coach or a key player on three of them.
Including previous career coaching stops at Missouri (1992-97), Northwestern State (1998-2001), Florida (2002-03) and Kentucky (2004-08), the former All-SEC outfielder has been associated with teams over the past 24 seasons that have piled up 825 wins while producing more than 111 Major League Baseball Draft selections and 23 All-Americans. Cohen has racked up 561 wins in 16 years as a Division I head coach, including 240 in seven years at Mississippi State.
The former USA Baseball National Team coach has completely changed the culture of every program he has headed up, including both head coaching stops in the daunting SEC. After having a combined .459 winning percentage in his first two years at UK and MSU with rosters he mostly inherited, Cohen’s success rate has skyrocketed to a .662 total winning percentage following his second full recruiting class making it to campus.
At each coaching stop in his career, MSU’s skipper has had an adaptability factor like no other. At smaller ballparks where offense was critical to each teams’ success, Cohen excelled. In his time at each campus, the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native broke the single-season school runs record at Florida (2002) and Kentucky (2006 and 2008).
As the hitting coach at Missouri in 1996, the Tigers broke the school record for hits (659) and doubles (144). In the same position at Florida in 2002, the Gators led the country in hits (825) and ranked second nationally in average (.346), runs per game (9.74) and home runs per game (1.71). Cohen’s hitters also set or tied 41 total offensive school records (20 team/21 individual).
When Cohen was coaching at bigger ballparks, he adjusted accordingly. His Northwestern State pitching staffs set 10 school records from 1998-2001 as Cohen took home two Southland Conference championships and Coach of the Year honors. In Starkville at the spacious Dudy Noble Field, Cohen’s defense has recorded the fourth-highest fielding percentage in college baseball since the 2014 season began.
Depending on what his home field requires, Cohen has been one of the few coaches nationally to have consistently figured out a way to finish in the top 10 nationally in categories such as ERA, runs scored, double plays, fielding percentage and on-base percentage.
An annual leader nationally in college baseball attendance, MSU has registered eight of its top 10 all-time marks in baseball season-ticket sales during Cohen’s tenure, including a school-record 5,874 in 2014. The success is a direct result of Cohen, who initiated a program where season tickets are hand-delivered by players to local ticket owners. The tradition, which has become wildly popular at MSU, has since been copied by athletic programs across the country. Cohen also invented “The Dudes” in 2012, a student support group for baseball designed to grow his program’s brand among students on campus. Last year, more than 2,500 students showed up in 40-degree weather for the largest student pep rally for a college baseball team in history.
Off the field, Cohen has preached philanthropy to all those involved in his program. He routinely donates money from his camps to Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson, Mississippi. Each Friday, every member of the MSU baseball program writes a personalized thank you note to a person who has had a positive impact on their life. On top of that, he has organized hospital visits for his team, encouraged players to volunteer for things such as tornado recovery and has watched the Diamond Dawgs become ingrained in the Starkville community with their community service.
On top of community service, his teams have worked hard in the classroom as well, having produced a 3.0 GPA average or better in 12 of his first 15 semesters as head coach in Starkville. In spring 2015, the Diamond Dawgs became the first program in SEC history to have three straight SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year winners (Seth Heck, 2014-15; Sam Frost, 2013). MSU’s wide lead in all-time academic all-conference awards has grown during Cohen’s term at State, with 122 selections to the SEC Academic Honor Roll in seven seasons. In addition, 44 MSU newcomers received SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll status the past seven years, including a record 10 in 2014. Following the 2015 campaign, two-time SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year Seth Heck became the 18th Diamond Dawg to receive academic All-America honors.
Cohen’s positive reputation with his fanbase and success on the field led to the announcement during his tenure of an ambitious $40 million facility project that aims to give MSU the best non-Major League Baseball stadium in the country.
The Dudy Noble Field Master Plan calls for a new double-tiered grandstand with chairback seating, an elevated concourse that encircles the playing field and allows a constant view of the game action, welcoming entry plazas, spacious restrooms, concessions, a kids’ play area, berm seating, upgraded field lighting, HD video board, digital ribbon signage, team areas (clubhouse, training room, equipment room, coaches’ offices, etc.) and dramatically improved aesthetics.
Thanks to his success, along with academics and facilities, Cohen’s recruiting classes at State has garnered national acclaim. His 2009 debut recruiting class was ranked as the nation’s eighth best by Baseball America. Cohen’s second class in 2010 earned a No. 18 ranking, followed by a No. 14 ranking the following year. After a rare ranking of 37 in 2012, Cohen has reeled in a top-10 class in each of the last three seasons, marking the first time in the 125-year history of MSU the program secured three straight top-10 classes. The No. 2 class in 2013 marked the second-highest ever for the Bulldogs by Collegiate Baseball, which began ranking classes in 1983.
A big reason for Cohen’s recruiting success is his ability to attract and develop elite assistant coaches. Three former ABCA National Assistant Coach of the Year winners have been assistants on his staff. Two of those three are currently head coaches in the SEC, making Cohen the only coach in the league to square off yearly against two of his former assistant coaches.
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 Kentucky, he guided the Wildcats to a remarkable worst-to-first finish in the rugged SEC. That season, UK 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 Big Blue 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.
Mississippi State players have received All-SEC recognition in each of Cohen’s seven years at State, while 24 Diamond Dawgs have had their names called during the MLB Draft conducted the past eight seasons, including the 2012-13 first-round combo of Chris Stratton and Hunter Renfroe, the first time in history a Mississippi school produced a first rounder in consecutive drafts.
Continuing a trademark that has grown during his coaching career, Cohen is a highly sought-after featured speaker and clinician. He has traveled 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 at the annual event. Cohen has also maintained a full schedule of speaking engagements at alumni gatherings, civic organization meetings and baseball banquets on a variety of levels throughout the Magnolia State.
Cohen, the fifth MSU grad to serve as skipper at State, is one of two current SEC head baseball coaches coaching at his alma mater. The 49-year-old coach is married to the former Nelle Bashinsky, also from Tuscaloosa. The couple has two daughters - Jordan Baker and Avery Lawson.
COHEN THE PLAYER
Mississippi State skipper John Cohen wears No. 11 because it’s the same number he wore during his successful collegiate career as a player at State.
Before college, 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, 84 miles away, the likes of Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen were leading the Diamond Dawgs to a then 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, 1986, Cohen made his Dudy Noble Field debut in a Birmingham-Southern uniform, delivering a double, a triple and driving in three runs in a doubleheader split against the Bulldogs.
Cohen transferred to Mississippi State that fall, sitting out the 1987 campaign as a redshirt before beginning his SEC 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 148 wins and a winning percentage above 76 percent.
Cohen concluded his career ranked in the top 10 in several statistical categories at MSU and earned First-Team All-SEC distinction as a senior. He was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 22nd round of the 1990 MLB 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, Missouri, where he joined coach Gene McArtor’s Missouri 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.
In 1996, 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 University. His two predecessors at NSU served as head coaches in the SEC - Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn and former Alabama skipper Jim Wells.
Under Cohen, the Demons won 146 games 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 tallied college baseball’s seventh-best fielding percentage (.967). His NSU squads also excelled in the classroom, averaging 18 players with GPAs of 3.0 or better each semester while notching 3.0 team GPAs in both 1998 and 1999.
Cohen also spearheaded a highly successful fundraising campaign for NSU’s baseball facility, Brown-Stroud Field. The ballpark’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 coaches during a successful two-year stint at 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. In 2002, the Gators paced the SEC in nine team categories en route to 46 victories and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
At Florida, Cohen coached a pair of consensus All-Americans who hit .400 and scored more than 100 runs each, Mark Kiger and SEC batting champ Pat Osborn. Cohen’s balanced UF offense also included five players hitting 10-plus home runs.
In the 2003 season, the Orange and Blue’s high-octane offense paced the SEC in five offensive categories. The Gators finished in the top five in the league for the second-straight season in batting average and Brian Rose became the third UF slugger to earn All-America honors under Cohen’s tutelage. Bolstered by its tremendous offense, UF earned its second-consecutive NCAA regional tournament berth.
Cohen’s time away from the head coaching circle was brief. After two record-setting campaigns in the Sunshine State, the Tuscaloosa native was hired as head coach at Kentucky in 2003. After finishing just under .500 in his first season at UK (2004), the Wildcats reeled off four-straight winning campaigns. In five seasons as the Wildcats’ dugout general, Cohen guided the Blue and White to unprecedented success on the diamond, guiding his teams to 175 triumphs while developing UK into a major player on the national scene.
Cohen’s 2006 Wildcat edition turned many heads when it rolled to a 44-win season, the school’s first SEC baseball title and registered the league’s first worst-to-first one-season turnaround in baseball. For his efforts, Cohen received national and conference coach of the year plaudits in 2006, a season in which UK hosted its first NCAA regional tournament.
That 2006 UK team piled up a school-record 500 runs, while his 2007 club led the SEC in eight offensive categories. The 2007 edition of the Wildcats also ranked third nationally in home runs and slugging percentage and hit for a stellar .320 average, which fell just one point shy of the school record.
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 arrived back in Starkville in June 2008 and returned Mississippi State to the NCAA postseason scene in 2011. State win 38 games and captured the NCAA Atlanta Regional before pushing No. 2 national seed Florida to a third game in a dramatic Super Regional in Gainesville. A year later, the 2012 Diamond Dawgs registered the program’s first 40-win campaign since 2005, won their seventh SEC Baseball Tournament and went on to compete in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional.
In 2013, Cohen led State to the best finish of any sport in the history of his alma mater - a No. 2 final national ranking and a finalist finish in the NCAA College World Series. The Maroon and White finished 51-20 overall, steamrolling through the NCAA Starkville Regional and upsetting No. 6 national seed Virginia on the road to advance to the school’s ninth College World Series.
At the plate, his Bulldogs racked up a school-record 713 hits, good for third in the country, while junior shortstop Adam Frazier led the NCAA with 107 base knocks and paced the SEC with 20 doubles. Junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe led the SEC in both home runs and total bases, going on to be drafted 13th overall by the San Diego Padres in the June 2013 MLB Draft.
As good as MSU was offensively, the pitching and defense carried the load as much as anyone. Six pitchers had ERAs under 2.00, with a collective team ERA of 2.79 and an SEC-high 588 strikeouts. State finished second nationally with a school-record 80 double plays. Cohen’s pitchers were one of two staffs in 2013 to finish the top 10 nationally in ERA, strikeouts per nine innings and hits allowed per nine innings.
Cohen’s coaching efforts did not go unnoticed. He was awarded national coach of the year honors by both the College Baseball Foundation and CollegeBaseballInsider.com. In addition, he was tabbed by his peers for conference coach of the year accolades for the third time in his career.
While 2014 did not end in Omaha, Cohen’s sixth season at the helm still produced successful results, ending with a fourth-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State finished with 39 wins, including its best SEC mark (18-12) since going 19-11 in 1997. Including his 500th win as head coach on Feb. 16, 2014, Cohen won 38-plus games for the fourth-consecutive season, marking the first time since 1998-2001 the Bulldogs accomplished the feat. Also in that tally was the fact Cohen helped MSU win 16-plus SEC games for the third-consecutive season, marking the third time in history and the first time in 24 years it accomplished the feat (1983-85, 1988-90).
Nationally, the Diamond Dawgs continued to earn a reputation as one of the top fielding programs in the country, leading the SEC and finishing fifth in the NCAA with a school-record .981 fielding percentage in 2014. On the mound, MSU ranked top-20 in the country in strikeouts per nine innings (8.1, 13th) and shutouts (8, 19th). Bulldog pitchers allowed an SEC-low 13 home runs all season.
Overall, Cohen coached a league-high tying six All-SEC selections, placing three members on the All-SEC team, two on the All-Defensive squad and one on the All-Freshman team.
While the 2015 regular season did not go as planned thanks in part to 13 players missing a total of 260-plus games, the Diamond Dawgs had the best summer in school history this past year. In January 2016 at the annual ABCA Convention, Cohen was presented with the 2015 National Alliance of College Summer Baseball Most Valuable Program Award.
The NACSB had 845 institutions send more than 3,800 players across the country in 2015, with MSU being named the top school as a result of the quantity and quality of players assigned to affiliated NACSB leagues. Of the 21 players from the 2016 MSU roster which competed this past summer, 11 earned All-Star honors. Two of those 11 were named Most Valuable Player in their respective league.
Cohen’s 13 hitters combined to hit .316 in 438 total games, going 463 for 1464 with 241 RBIs, 86 doubles, 13 triples and 31 home runs. On the mound, MSU’s nine pitchers recorded a 2.13 ERA in 292 innings with 251 strikeouts and a 1.15 WHIP.
At MSU, Cohen has assembled a well-respected and highly-skilled coaching staff featuring coaches well-versed in the Maroon and White’s colorful baseball tradition, the Magnolia State’s high school and junior college programs and the nation’s top college baseball league. All the while, Cohen has continued to lay and build upon a strong foundation for success on the diamond at Mississippi State.
Birthdate Sept. 21, 1966
Hometown Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Wife Nelle Cohen
Children Jordan Baker and Avery Lawson
High School Tuscaloosa Academy, 1985
College Mississippi State, 1990 (English)
Graduate Missouri, 1994 (Sports Management)
1982-85 Tuscaloosa Academy
1987-90 Mississippi State
1990-91 Minnesota Twins Farm System
1990 First-Team All-SEC
1990 MLB Draft Pick - 22nd Round (Twins)
1992-94 Graduate Assistant, Missouri
1995-97 Assistant Coach, Missouri
1998-01 Head Coach, Northwestern State
2002-03 Assistant Coach, Florida
2004-08 Head Coach, Kentucky
2009-Present Head Coach, Mississippi State
1998 Southland Conference Coach of the Year
2001 Southland Conference Coach of the Year
2005 Assistant Coach, Team USA
2006 SEC Coach of the Year
2006 ABCA South Region Coach of the Year
2006 CBI National Coach of the Year
2013 ABCA South Region Coach of the Year
2013 CBI National Coach of the Year Finalist
Year School Position Record CHAMPIONSHIPS/POSTSEASON
1992 Missouri Graduate Assistant 34-22
1993 Missouri Graduate Assistant 30-19
1994 Missouri Graduate Assistant 32-26
1995 Missouri Assistant Coach 19-34
1996 Missouri Assistant Coach 39-19 Big Eight Champions/NCAA Regional
1997 Missouri Assistant Coach 31-27
1998 Northwestern State Head Coach* 40-20 Southland Conference Champions
1999 Northwestern State Head Coach 38-21
2000 Northwestern State Head Coach 30-26
2001 Northwestern State Head Coach* 38-17 Southland Conference Champions
2002 Florida Assistant Coach 37-21-1 NCAA Regional
2003 Florida Assistant Coach 46-19 NCAA Regional
2004 Kentucky Head Coach 24-30
2005 Kentucky Head Coach 29-27
2006 Kentucky Head Coach* 44-17 SEC Champions/NCAA Regional
2007 Kentucky Head Coach 34-19-1
2008 Kentucky Head Coach 44-19 NCAA Regional
2009 Mississippi State Head Coach 25-29
2010 Mississippi State Head Coach 23-33
2011 Mississippi State Head Coach 38-25 NCAA Regional/Super Regional
2012 Mississippi State Head Coach 40-24 SEC Tournament Champions/NCAA Regional
2013 Mississippi State Head Coach 51-20 NCAA College World Series Finalists
2014 Mississippi State Head Coach 39-24 NCAA Regional
2015 Mississippi State Head Coach 24-30
All-Time Coaching Record (24 Seasons) 829-568-2 (.593)
All-Time Head Coaching Record (16 Seasons) 561-381-1 (.595)
All-Time MSU Head Coaching Record (7 Seasons) 240-185 (.565)
* Conference Coach of the Year