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MSU's Cohen likes magic in third year

June 6, 2011

MSU head baseball coach John Cohen, left, pays a visit to pitcher Devin Jones during a game earlier this season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen is a big believer in something magical happening in year three of his rebuilding plan.
He has historical evidence to back this up – and an athletic director that seen him turn the trick in two different places.
In his third season back at his alma mater, Cohen has taken Mississippi State back to its first Super Regional appearance since 2007 after three straight losing seasons in the most difficult college league in America.
"Since I've done this before, there's something that happens in year three and I can't put my finger on it," Cohen said. "There's a level of mental toughness that you can just see rising to the top."
Before coming to Mississippi State, Cohen coached the University of Kentucky to a 44-17 record and the school's first-ever Southeastern Conference championship led by a league player of the year selection in first baseman Ryan Strieby.
That breakout season was proceeded by a pair of sixth place finishes in the Eastern Division of the conference.
"You can see kids really getting what our staff is trying to get across and you can see that skill level elevate with the old and the new," Cohen said.
A man that was watching Cohen turn around the Wildcats program in Lexington is now his boss at MSU in Scott Stricklin. Stricklin was the associate athletic director in charge of media relations at UK specifically remembers appreciating the efforts he was seeing in the dugout at that time.
"John has all the qualities you'd want in a coach as he's intelligent, understands how to get people to buy in and has a precise plan of success," Stricklin said. "When you see that, it's easy to believe something good is about to happen soon."
Similiarly to when MSU (37-23) had some things fall into place in their three-game sweep at the Atlanta Regional, Mississippi State was fortunate enough to see the college game transform into more of an athletic-type style with the changing of the aluminum bats. With the last two recruiting classes in place and developed, Cohen was ready for pitching and defense to be the premium that everybody in the country wanted.
"(The game) has changed in a huge way and the minute I walked into Mississippi State I really felt like the bats were going to change," Cohen said. "With the way our ballpark is, pitching and defense was the way to go to get us where we wanted to be."
State got three quality starts in Atlanta on the mound with two 2010 recruits (Luis Pollorena and Evan Mitchell) and freshman C.T. Bradford take home the tournament's most outstanding player trophy.
"He told me (when MSU was recruiting the 2010 Mr. Baseball in Florida) and everybody else that we would work as hard as we can and we got a lot of talent coming in right now," Bradford said. "The coaches made you want to be a part of this."
Cohen was painfully honest with his bosses and with the Starkville fanbase early on that his plan was a step-by-step process and he was not inheriting a roster that was ready to make a run at the College World Series in Omaha in his first season.
"The SEC doesn't allow quick change, it just doesn't, it's too good," Cohen said. "They don't care about scrappy, they care about skill level. When skill level and toughness come together, things like this are possible."
Stricklin said that while patience is becoming rare in the current atmosphere of college athletics, he was refreshed to hear from a head coaching candidate that his first couple of years would potentially be rough to deal with.
"I remember him walking up to me and being candid saying 'I'm not looking forward to these first couple of seasons,'" Stricklin said. "That's not fun to hear but when I'd seen him go through the same successful process at another place, you believed it would work at a special place like this too."
Stricklin used the comparison to the rebuilding job of Virginia Tech head football coach Frank Beamer used with Hokies program as he suffered through four losing records in his first six years in Blacksburg, Va. It was in that seventh season when he led Virginia Tech to its current string of 18 straight bowl appearances.
"I sit back and think what if Virginia Tech had a quick trigger with somebody who now is a Hall of Fame coach like him," Stricklin said. "Sometimes when you're on this side of things you see a perspective that makes you appreciate where coaches are coming from if you believe in their plan. You have to remember the other teams facing you are trying to beat you bad too."
After seeing so many Mississippi State fans in the stands at Russ Chandler Stadium at Georgia Tech this weekend, Cohen and Stricklin both agree the plan is to start hosting these postseason events in the future.
"Our fans just get it and that's why you come from a Kentucky to a Mississippi State," Cohen said. "They understand college baseball and the support is something our kids can feel. I felt it as a player and feel it as a coach now."

Jones expects name
to be drafted today

Mississippi State junior right-hander Devin Jones expects to hear his name called today in the second day of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
The Eupora native and former All-Area selection out of Eupora High School has spoken to representatives of over 20 clubs and could be a highly valued prospect that could see a six-figure signing bonus despite a rocky collegiate career.
"I would think so and I'm not sure that's not the best thing for him because he's got  super talent," Cohen said. "I think that's pretty obvious scouts love his fastball and slider combination."
Jones told the Starkville Daily News Monday he's been told he could be taken anywhere from rounds 4-10 Tuesday.
"If I'm taken early (Tuesday) it will probably be Baltimore because I think I've spoken to everyone in their front office practically and they've told me they may take me really high," Jones said.
Jones, who opened the 2011 season as the MSU Opening Day starter, is 2-5 with a 4.45 earned run average in his new role as one of the Bulldogs top middle relievers out of the bullpen.
Rounds 2-20 of the MLB Draft continue today with the final 30 rounds concluding Wednesday.
Jones says he and fellow junior Nick Routt are being assisted in getting information by sports agent Bo McKinnis, who used to be was a student manager of the MSU baseball team, and has gone on to represent over 100 Major League players including Paul Byrd, José Canseco, Rusty Greer, Chris Hammond and Jay Powell.
"What Bo does for these guys in this process is gather information for them," Cohen said. "He kind of serves as the scouting information gatherer that the NFL and NBA already provides for guys before they declare."
Jones jokes that the information gathering may be the other way around.
"It's unusually me telling me what teams are saying and then him saying 'OK – let's just wait and see'," Jones said with a laugh.
Jones was drafted in the 49th round by the Cleveland Indians out of Eupora High School and said Monday he's not sure what the dollar amount would have to be to have him leave MSU a year before he's scheduled to graduate with a degree in business administration.
"There's always a chance to come back because it's hard to leave a team when you're on top like we are this year and should be next year," Jones said. "You've also got to look at the fact that I've had various people tell me I've got a opportunity to make it to the big leagues."

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