Cohen brings passion as athletic director

On Nov. 4, 2016, John Cohen was named Mississippi State University’s 17th director of athletics by MSU President Mark E. Keenum after an exhaustive national search.

The former Bulldog head baseball coach and two-time Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year replaced Scott Stricklin, who became athletic director at the University of Florida in September.

Cohen, 50, has spent over two decades coaching college baseball and has been the head baseball coach at Mississippi State since 2009. A Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native and MSU alumnus, he led the Bulldogs to a College World Series finals appearance, an SEC regular season championship and an SEC Tournament championship.

Q: You were at the top of your game as a baseball coach. Why did you decide to seek the athletic director post at your alma mater rather than continue coaching?
A: I have always wanted to be an athletic director. When this incredible opportunity came along, it was just too enticing to pass up when you consider my age and experiences over the past 25 years. I really enjoyed coaching. It was one of the many great gifts of my life, but when the confluence of age, opportunity, experience and good fortune come together…at a place you love…what an incredible journey it has been.

Q: What are your goals for MSU Athletics and what do you identify as the prime obstacle to reaching those goals?
These are my goals:
• Focus on our student-athletes, making sure their experience is educational and fulfilling.
• Recognize and employ the full scope of compliance, not just from an NCAA and SEC perspective. I want our entire department to understand clearly that honesty, integrity and effort should be at the heart of everything we do.
• Exercise fiscal responsibility.
• Serve our MSU family, as the Athletic Department is not an island. Pride should come from recognizing that you are part of something that is much bigger that yourself.
• Relentlessly promote this wonderful institution, Mississippi State University.
There are always obstacles, but to quote Les Brown, “It’s better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit.”

L-R: daughter Avery Cohen, John Cohen, Nelle Cohen, and daughter Jordan Cohen (Image submitted)

Q: Let’s talk about the future of Dudy Noble Field at Polk-DeMent Stadium. What can our fan base expect over the next year?
I am very excited about this project for obvious reasons but most of all, I have confidence that this facility will create a fun, comfortable, safe, convenient and exciting environment for our fans; honor the history of the program; and provide necessary components for the future success of Mississippi State baseball. We will break ground at the end of this season. Our plan is to play around construction through the 2018 season with full completion expected for 2019 season.

Q: Overall, do you feel that MSU is competitive with the rest of the Southeastern Conference in terms of facilities? Is there work left to do?
I feel that our facilities are not just competitive but elite. There will always be a need to update, and we are committed to providing the MSU family the best possible facilities for our institution.

Q: We talk a great deal about “family” in MSU Athletics. At home, how has your family shaped John Cohen?
I came from a family of educators. I have always had a thirst for knowledge and still have a long way to go. I was taught to think critically. There’s a big difference between critical thinking and criticism.

Q: You earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from MSU. How has this degree served you in your career?
My degree from MSU has been invaluable. I just wish I had taken advantage of all that MSU had to offer when I was a student. That’s the advice I most often give to MSU students: Please take advantage of all the wonderful things that this great institution has to offer. I was not a great student. All I cared about was athletics. I received a great education, especially in the English department, in spite of myself. I had incredible professors like Dr. Clyde Williams, among many others.

Q: Technology has had a tremendous impact on sports. Do you expect that trend to continue?
Technology will be the driving force for what happens in the stands and on the playing fields and courts in the future. Technology will greatly affect athlete performance and will influence the way fans interpret what is happening in the game.

Q: How can we best protect the MSU tradition that you call your favorite, the cowbell?
We can best protect our beloved cowbell by continuing to follow the rules, and that means always ringing responsibly.

Cannizaro begins first season as Bulldog skipper

The largest opening-weekend crowd in Mississippi State baseball history welcomed Andy Cannizaro to the Maroon and White family in his debut as head coach of the Diamond Dawgs. He plans to reward that enthusiasm by bringing an exciting brand of play to Dudy Noble Field.

“We’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to play fast,” Cannizaro said of his coaching style. “We’re going to be aggressive in the batter’s box, we’re going to take the extra base, and we’re going to play an entertaining style of baseball that our fans are really going to enjoy.”

Cannizaro, 37, comes to Starkville from Louisiana State University where he spent two years as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator and helped guide the Tigers to an SEC championship and College World Series.
Having faced Mississippi State as an SEC division rival, he is familiar with the devotion of the MSU faithful, and that dedication is part of what drew him to the head-coaching position.

“The passion of the fan base and just how much this community loves college baseball really attracted me to this job,” Cannizaro said. “When you think about college baseball and the programs that really influenced where the game is now, I think MSU baseball is one of the most genuine and historic programs in the country.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity to continue to raise the bar that Ron Polk and John Cohen set for Mississippi State baseball,” he added.

Cohen story by Sid Salter, Cannizaro story by Susan Lassetter, Cannizaro portrait by Russ Houston