By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Two years after leaving his assistant’s position at Florida to take the head coaching job at Kentucky, John Cohen was in Omaha. As an observer.
Florida was in the 2005 College World Series. Kentucky’s season had long been over, and so Cohen went to watch the players he’d once coached take part in the event every college baseball coach and player strives to reach.
As he shook hands with players he’d recruited and hugged their parents, it was a bittersweet moment for Cohen. He had one thought: Should I have left Florida?
“That was tough for me,” Cohen said Monday. “I know that’s selfish, but you want to be in Omaha. That’s the epicenter of college baseball.”
Now, Cohen gets to go to Omaha with his own team. Mississippi State swept Virginia in the Charlottesville Super Regional, earning the school’s ninth CWS berth.
The Bulldogs play at 2 p.m. Saturday versus Oregon State.
Cohen eventually won at Kentucky, earning an SEC title in 2006, but never got the Wildcats to the biggest stage. When he came to MSU after the 2008 season, he took over a program that had made Omaha in 2007 but had fallen off a cliff the next season and was lacking in talent.
Omaha seemed far away then, but Cohen said he didn’t doubt the Bulldogs would return soon.
But he knew tradition alone wouldn’t get it done. He said the more important factor was the people he brought in – his assistant coaches and the players. He has raved constantly about the character of his players, which he credits to their families.
“I don’t care what any coach says, that’s it, and these are the right kids, and we felt that way,” Cohen said.
He raved about their discipline on and off the field, including their classwork. The Bulldogs posted a 3.30 GPA this past academic year.
The pieces he has in place is why Cohen hasn’t been shy about voicing his goals for this team. The ultimate goal, of course, is a national championship.
His wife, Nelle, often chastises him for saying it out loud.
“I say, ‘Nelle, we’re in the SEC. All 14 coaches talk about winning a national championship,’” Cohen said.
Now that he’s taken MSU to Omaha, that goal is within reach. He’ll be there with his team this time, between the lines, right where he wants to be.