Wildcats have UF's respect Tonight
Published: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 1:28 a.m.
When John Cohen took the head coaching job at Kentucky he immediately sought advice from his peers in the coaching ranks. The feedback he received was somewhat chilling.
"I asked a lot of people for advice and they said it couldn't be done at Kentucky," Cohen said. "But if you want to find excuses there are plenty of them."
Cohen isn't looking for excuses. He's only trying to prove those naysayers wrong. Cohen, who served as Florida's hitting coach for two seasons before leaving for Kentucky in 2004, will bring his Wildcats to Gainesville for the first time this weekend. The three-game series begins tonight at 6:30 p.m. at McKethan Stadium.
"I really just enjoyed my time so much there," Cohen said. "It was a thrill. I still feel close to a lot of people down there."
Cohen knows it will be a long road to bring respect to Kentucky's baseball program. That was evident last year when Cohen inherited a very unbalanced team with plenty of seniors but very few freshmen or sophomores.
"I felt like I had someone hand me an etch-a-sketch that was blank," Cohen said. "We were really starting from scratch."
The Wildcats went 24-30 last year with a team that lacked underclassmen. So Cohen and his staff hit the recruiting trail - with success.
Cohen landed a class ranked in the top 25 by Collegiate Baseball. It included one high school All-American and the 2004 Kentucky Mr. Baseball.
"Now it's the opposite (of last year)," Cohen said. "We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores."
In addition to recruiting, Cohen also brought his hitting knowledge to Lexington. Kentucky improved its batting average by 15 points last year and improved its home run total from 38 to 52. This year, the Wildcats are hitting close to .300.
Those numbers should come as no shock to anyone in Gainesville. Cohen coached one of the most prolific Gator offenses during his first season at UF in 2002. Florida led the nation in hits and ranked second in batting average, runs scored and home runs, setting 41 offensive schools records.
"His hitting philosophy in general is incredible," said Gators senior Jeff Corsaletti, who played under Cohen in his first two years at Florida. "He could just break guys down. A lot of the things he taught me, I still use today. He's a great coach. He's going to be fine. I have a lot of respect for that guy."
McMahon brought Cohen to Florida when he was hired to replace Andy Lopez in 2002. Cohen had spent his previous four years as head coach at Northwestern State, where he won 30 or more games in each season.
Cohen's connection with McMahon began when Cohen played at Mississippi State in the late 1980s while McMahon was an assistant there.
McMahon isn't one who believes that winning can't happen at Kentucky.
"I think the University of Kentucky is in a tremendous position to excel," McMahon said. "They're in an outstanding league, have an outstanding recruiting base and great facilities. They want to excel."
And Cohen says with time, he will have Kentucky winning.
"I know we're going to get it done," Cohen said. "It's just a matter of time."
You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AT A GLANCE
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