By JOEL COLEMAN
John Cohen’s Mississippi State baseball team won the Southeastern Conference’s grandest prize on Saturday when the Bulldogs captured the team’s first league championship since 1989. On Monday, MSU’s eighth-year head coach was rewarded with some personal hardware.
The SEC has named Cohen the conference’s Coach of the Year. The honor comes just two days after he became the first coach in league history to lead his team to an outright SEC championship one season after finishing last. Cohen becomes the fourth MSU coach to ever earn the Coach of the Year award and is the first since Ron Polk earned the honor in 1989.
For the last three years, MSU junior pitcher Dakota Hudson has suited up under Cohen. He’s convinced that Cohen’s demeanor is why the Bulldogs are enjoying one of their best seasons ever.
“He’s a fierce competitor,” Hudson said of Cohen. “We kind of feed off him. He wants things done the right way and I just feel like him being that demanding of us makes us push towards perfection.
“We’ve learned a lot from him. Just being able to ask of ourselves what he asks from us, that puts us on another level I feel like.”
Cohen led MSU to a school-record 21 SEC wins in 2016. The Bulldogs also won nine conference series, a mark that is also a program record. That all led to State’s 11th regular season crown and earned Cohen his recognition on Monday.
MSU assistant coach Nick Mingione has spent most of the last decade working alongside Cohen, first at Kentucky and now at Mississippi State. Mingione was on Cohen’s staff with the Wildcats in 2006 back when Cohen captured his first SEC Coach of the Year award. The two have been close since then and Mingione said Cohen’s accomplishments go far beyond what he does on a baseball diamond.
“He’s an unbelievable human being,” Mingione said of Cohen. “Being with him for 10 years, I’ve seen the son he is to his mom and dad, when he was alive. I’ve seen the father he is to his girls, Jordan and Avery. I’ve seen the husband he is to Nelle. When you spend this much time with somebody, you truly get to know them and he’s such a great person.”
Mingione tells the story of his and Cohen’s Kentucky tenure shortly after Cohen won Coach of the Year with the Wildcats. Cohen looked on the bottom of his trophy and discovered who manufactured it. Cohen then called the company and had a replica of the trophy made and inscribed for each one of his assistants.
Mingione says that Cohen displays a similar love and care for each of the players that he gets the opportunity to coach.
“He does so many things for our guys that they don’t even notice at times,” Mingione said. “He’s a man that cares about not only how they perform as players, but off the field. He holds everyone accountable academically. Off the field, he just truly cares about them as people. He understands that this time here is short and when they leave here, he wants them to be better men.”
Cohen’s guidance led several other Bulldogs to honors of their own on Monday. Jake Mangum captured the C Spire Ferriss Trophy, which is given annually to the state of Mississippi’s best college baseball player. Mangum was also named the SEC’s Freshman of the Year and handed a spot on the All-Freshman team. Mangum, Hudson, Nathaniel Lowe and Jack Kruger all were listed as All-SEC first-teamers. Brent Rooker was named second team All-SEC.
Cohen will try and lead those young men and the rest of the Bulldogs to even greater heights in the days ahead. MSU begins play in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday. The NCAA Tournament will start next week.
Mingione says the Bulldogs have the right man at the helm to keep pushing State forward.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a better leader of people than him,” Mingione said.