For over seven years, John Cohen and Butch Thompson stood side-by-side guiding Mississippi State to heights the history rich program had never seen.
This weekend however the two friends and former colleagues will be in opposing dugouts as Cohen brings the Bulldogs to Auburn where Thompson is in his first season as head coach.
“Butch has a huge hand in recruiting and working with a lot of our players,” Cohen said. “It’ll be unique. He’ll know our tendencies and we’ll have to disguise some things a little bit better than we normally do.”
Things will get a little weird for Thompson as well after serving as MSU’s pitching coach from 2009 to as recently as late October when Auburn hired the Amory native a day after the Bulldogs’ final fall practice.
“When I watch them on TV it’s strange,” Thompson said. “Being with those guys through the recruiting process on through a year, two or three with some of these guys, you just want to see them do so well. That’s not the case this weekend but you want to see them do so good, you root for them and I always will.”
Thompson’s influence can be found throughout State’s roster but perhaps none more so than in its pitching aces Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton. The junior right-handers have developed into two of the SEC’s premier arms this season after Thompson’s tutelage the last three years.
Cohen and new pitching coach Wes Johnson will try to temper some of the emotions Hudson and Sexton have as they take the mound against their former mentor this weekend.
“Anytime you’re around someone you admire and respect you want to perform for them,” Cohen said. “Whether Butch is in our dugout or the other, those guys are going to want to perform for him. They want to show him that they’ve improved. But we have Mississippi State on our chest and we have goals that we want to achieve and that takes priority No. 1.”
Cohen and Thompson have remained close since their split in October through phone calls and texts. The two have even been in contact as recently as this week despite a pivotal series looming for both teams.
Thompson is quick to credit Cohen for helping mold his career to become a head coach in the Southeastern Conference.
“He’s been an unbelievable mentor to me,” Thompson said. “He’s prepared me and helped me so much along the way as an assistant coach and as a person. Now we’re not together everyday but if I need something I can call him. He invested in me and those are things you never forget when you get an opportunity like I’ve been given at Auburn.”