Consider some of these recent quotes from Mississippi State’s first-year baseball coach:
- “This team’s going to have to overachieve in order for us to be successful.”
- “To be real honest with you, we’re not a talented ‘stuff’ pitching staff.”
- “We’re not an overly skilled offensive club.”
Pretty brutal. But let’s review some of his postgame comments during the Auburn series this past weekend:
- After blowing a 6-3 lead in the ninth inning of Game 1: “We’re not good enough to win these games yet.”
- After blowing an 8-2 lead in Game 3: “It’s personnel that just walks people, and there’s not much we can do about that. In the future we will have pitchers that have a background of throwing strikes; these guys do not.”
Very brutal, but honest. And all true.
For guys like me, Cohen’s honesty is refreshing. Canned quotes are the enemy in this business, and he makes our job easier and more enjoyable.
But of course, it’s not about the media. Cohen is focused on one thing: Making MSU a winner again. With the shape this program is in, no sense in fooling yourself.
But Cohen knows how to build up his players, how to balance his “negative” comments with praise. What he praises the most – effort – is what he values most. Yeah, he wants better talent in his program, and he plans on getting it, but you can sense his satisfaction at how hard his guys are playing for him.
Considering the Bulldogs are coming off a last-place finish in the SEC and is currently last in the Western Division (16-15, 4-8 SEC), and considering all the criticism Cohen’s had for them, it’s quite remarkable that the players show little sign of discouragement.
Following an 8-3 win in Game 2, senior Grant Hogue said, “We knew that if we came out with intensity that the wins would come. I know he’s proud of us.”
That intensity is drawn straight from Cohen and is the manifestation of his sky-high expectations. How else do you explain his turning around Kentucky so quickly? Baseball is to Kentucky as hockey is to Mississippi. Cohen willed that turnaround, and this challenge might be just as formidable.
I don’t know what Ron Polk’s standards were in recent years when recruiting, but he either didn’t have them set high enough or he just was unable to meet them. MSU’s best pitcher is a true freshman, and as well as Nick Routt has been throwing, that’s a bad sign.
There’s a reason Cohen said he prefers to “dodge” his bullpen. That group has a collective 9.56 ERA in SEC play. Against Auburn, it gave up 13 runs.
Like Cohen said, not very talented.
After he finished his postgame interview Sunday, Cohen heard a fan yell encouragingly, “You’ll get there, John.” I don’t have his reply verbatim, but Cohen basically said that’ll happen once some better arms arrive in Starkville.
Brutal, honest, true. That’s John Cohen.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com/pages/insidemississippistatesports