Mississippi State Baseball Coach John Cohen being interviewed by the media. Photo Courtesy of @HailStateBB
Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen was arguably the most popular coach in school history at the end of the 2013 season. He had just guided the Bulldogs to the first Championship Game ever played in the history of the school. He was the toast of Starkville. But as we enter our 4th weekend of SEC play, the honeymoon period Cohen enjoyed after that historic run in the College World Series has come to an end.
John Cohen has always been an unconventional coach. Cohen will put speedy lead off type hitters in the clean up spot as a way to reset the lineup for other gap ball hitters further down the lineup. He replaces pitchers in the middle of counts, a practice a lot of coaches at the college level do, but Cohen seems to do it more than others. Cohen will use a different lineup every single game. There are plenty of other examples, but these are the most common. Fans have been patient with Cohen and accepted his many quirks because it paid off big in 2013. But 2014 and 2015 has not brought the same level of success, and that same patience has worn thin.
In 2014, the Bulldogs posted their best record in SEC play since the 1997 team won 19 games in conference play. The Bulldogs went 18-12 against conference opponents, but the Bulldogs had losses to teams like Holy Cross, Memphis, and Western Carolina just to name a few, that weakened their resume. As a result, the Bulldogs were sent to Lafayette, LA for their regional and were eliminated in the finals.
The 2015 season saw the Bulldogs get off to a fast start, as they went 13-0. The team hadn’t suffered the same kinds of losses initially, but since that time, the Bulldogs have struggled to win with losses to UAPB, San Diego, and Auburn at home. Mississippi State is now 3-6 in SEC play and tied for last with Auburn and Arkansas in the West.
Frustration has set in all around the program. Cohen’s obsession with bunting has made it worse, but the larger problem is the Bulldogs can’t hit. After the Bulldogs scored a run in the eighth inning against Kentucky, they went 28 innings without scoring a run. The silver lining is the 2013 team went 3-6 to start SEC play, and we know what happened with that team. But just because there is a quirk in the records, it doesn’t mean that the results will be the same. What it does show is the cyclical nature of the sport of baseball. The season is not lost, but the Bulldogs need to start righting the ship. And it needs to happen sooner than later.
The fans are divided on how they feel about Cohen. I receive a large number of tweets during the game saying he is a bum (normally after a bunt). I also receive a large number of tweets that he has shown he is capable of pulling this team out of their current funk. People are also going to the extremes. I have received some messages asking me point blank if Cohen is still the right man for the job, while others have told me he should get a lifetime pass for what he did in 2013. So where is the truth about Cohen?
As most things go, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Is it possible that Cohen could fall so far from grace that he gets fired two seasons after that historic run in the College World Series? Anything is possible, but it simply isn’t likely. It’s also not likely that he can sustain multiple disappointing seasons either.
Here is the truth about Cohen in my eyes. Cohen has received too much of a pass because of 2013. The Bulldogs have yet to have a dominant season under Cohen, and had it not been for that amazing run in 2013, the grumblings would be even louder. Cohen has also done an amazing job recruiting, but even that could come back to haunt him. The 2014 signing class was ranked 2nd in the country. Players from that class include Gavin Collins and Reid Humphreys. The one bad thing about recruiting well is if you don’t win at a level that matches up to how you recruit, a coach’s seat can get hot quick. Cohen has done a good job since taking over in Starkville, but it doesn’t mean he has no room for improvement. Bulldog fans need to give him more time, but it shouldn’t be an infinite amount. The baseball program is too good to accept mediocrity from its head coach. Step 1 away from mediocrity can take place tonight against South Carolina.