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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

State of State with John Cohen

Kelly Donoho

John Cohen the day he introduced the new baseball coach Chris Lemonis. Cohen has been the Director of Athletics for two years.

John Cohen, athletic director at Mississippi State University, stood in his office wearing maroon on a Friday morning sacrificing his time to do an interview before leaving to go for his routine run.

Two years ago, he had stepped away from the baseball diamond and was named the 17th director of athletics at MSU succeeding Scott Stricklin, something Cohen said he had prepared for a long time.

“I’ve said this many times, inevitably, when you are 25-30 years into your career, you have to like yourself and really like what you are doing,” Cohen said. “I loved what I was doing at Mississippi State coaching baseball, but I had been preparing for longer, ever since I was a kid for this kind of opportunity.”

Cohen said he had some great mentors with the likes of Scott Stricklin, Greg Byrne and Mitch Barnhart, as well as many others. As far as why he loves his job as athletic director, it is because of the challenges he has to face.

“I love the combination of skills that you have to sharpen and refine every single day to sit behind this desk. And I love that challenge,” Cohen said.

One of the skills Cohen has been challenged with using often over the past two year is the hiring of new coaches. Soccer and track and field coaches resigned just this last season, so a new coaching search is underway.

“We are well underway, our staff is doing a ton of research, and we believe soccer will happen fairly quickly,” Cohen said. “Josh Rife has been our interim (soccer) coach, and Chris Woods has been our interim track coach. Those guys have done a great job of being part of the process.”

As for what the process looks like, Cohen said they are looking everywhere to find the right person for MSU. He added how the Hump will follow a similar timeline to the Dudy Noble Field’s renovation.

“Mississippi State deserves the full attention of a national search,” Cohen said. “We would love for it to follow close to the same timeline as baseball. I would say it would follow a very similar type of timeline.”

The new Dude was announced in 2014 and will be completely finished by opening day of baseball, Feb. 15, 2019.

Not only has MSU renovated their athletic facilities, something Cohen said they will continue to improve upon, they have also developed a culture Cohen would describe as blue collar.

“We have so many different sports and each one has their own thing,” Cohen said. “But certainly, we are one of those schools who has to outcompete, outwork, and it’s hard to encapsulate 400 student athletes and 208 employees in one word.”

Another way of defining MSU athletics would be to look at the connection the athletic teams have to the community of Starkville and vice versa.

“I’m so incredibly fortunate to be in this community of Starkville and Mississippi State University because it is truly a family. Our kids really enjoy it,” Cohen said.

Family is what defines the connection between the university and the community it shares with Starkville. Cohen said this is something that has always stuck out to prospective students and student athletes.

“Every time we have a kid on a visit, who are not familiar with Mississippi State, (they) will say, ‘This is how I thought it was supposed to be,’” Cohen said. “In a very positive way, I think that is because of the Starkville community.”

As MSU continues to grow with more and more students, the athletic department also grows in more than just success, but also in academics.

“Last semester, we had (an average) 3.17 GPA for almost 400 student athletes. That is the highest we have ever had,” Cohen said. “If you look back at the past 365 days, it is really the most successful in the history of our program, athletically.”

With the fall semester and football season over, now it is time for spring semester and all the other sports, tennis, golf, track and field, baseball, softball and basketball to get going. Cohen said his department is a different kind of busy. There is a plethora of spring sports, but their game schedules are more spread out; whereas with fall sports, football, volleyball and soccer, most games  seem to be scheduled more closely together.

“We are all really busy, everyone at this university is busy because we are trying to make this place better everyday,” Cohen said. “Every once in a while, sometimes the least busiest time for our staff is during the actual game because of what we have to do during our game and before our game. The during is about our student athletes, the before and after is about serving our fans.”

The spring is an exciting time for fans with so many games, and Cohen shares that excitement as teams like softball, tennis, and track and field are poised to have a great year.

“There are so many different neat things happening,” Cohen said. “There are so many really fun things happening on campus, and I can’t wait to go to those.”

Cohen said the tradition and history surrounding baseball at MSU is also something very exciting to have in the spring. While the traditions at MSU remain relatively unchanged, they also are trying to keep things modern for younger fans to improve the fan experience.

“We want our athletes and our fans to have the best game-day experiences possible,” Cohen said. “Sometimes tradition and modernizing or moving into the future conflict, but we try to pull those things together and marry them.”

The greatest example of tying the knot between tradition and modernity is probably the most iconic image of MSU athletics, the Left Field Lounge.

“One of the greatest traditions in all of college baseball,” Cohen said. “I don’t think it has ever been stronger than it is right now. Our fans have really embraced the new facility we have. It is different, it’s safer, it’s more available to anyone who wants to be a part of it, the sight lines are spectacular and amenities are far better than they used to be.”

Cohen said there was originally a bit of disgruntlement from the fans, however the disposition has changed as they experienced the modern Left Field Lounge this past season.

“I have not talked to anyone who is disappointed with what happened to the Left Field Lounge and how it evolved,” Cohen said. “That is a great marriage of tradition, but also modern at the same time.”

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State of State with John Cohen