MSU baseball coach Cohen has Gator ties

Mississippi State head coach John Cohen, right, argues a play with umpire Tony Maners against Mississippi during an NCAA college baseball game at Oxford-University Stadium in Oxford, Miss. on May 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)

Published: Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 7:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 7:49 p.m.

Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen recalled his first taste of how important football is at Florida.

As a Florida baseball assistant coach in 2001, Cohen climbed to the top of the stands at McKethan Stadium to watch football practice. Even though Cohen wore a Florida jersey, he wasn't exactly trusted when spotted by former UF football coach Steve Spurrier.

"A security guard escorted me down and said I wasn't allowed to watch football practice," Cohen said.

Cohen was back at the stadium where he said he learned a "great deal" on Thursday, preparing Mississippi State for its super regional matchup with Florida. Cohen was an assistant at Florida from 2001-03 under former baseball coach Pat McMahon.

"Every stop of the way you learn so much," Cohen said. "I learned so much under the tutelage of Pat McMahon and really the hands-on of (athletic director) Jeremy Foley. You don't just work for your boss, which is the head coach, you are working for Jeremy Foley and he has expectations and he's a great leader."

Cohen left Florida in 2004 to take his first Southeastern Conference head coaching job at Kentucky. After leading Kentucky to two NCAA regional appearances in five seasons, Cohen returned to his alma mater, taking the Mississippi State head coaching job in 2009.

His first two seasons at Mississippi State produced sub-.500 records. But Cohen has led the Bulldogs to a 37-23 record this season.

"He's energetic," Mississippi State outfielder Jaron Shepherd said. "He's always behind the team with whatever is going on."

Mississippi State has relied more on speed (88 steals) than power (28 home runs) to get within two wins of its first College World Series appearance since 2007. Cohen admitted getting the Bulldogs back to the CWS on a field where he once coached would be a significant feat.

"It would be very fitting if I didn't feel like Florida is the best team in the country right now," Cohen said. "They are really good. I've said all along, I think Vanderbilt has the best pitching staff in college baseball. I think Florida has the best team in college baseball."

Cohen will send freshman righty Evan Mitchell (6-1, 3.47 ERA) to the mound to start against Florida sophomore righty Hudson Randall (9-3, 2,38 ERA). Mitchell pitched eight scoreless innings in Mississippi State's regional win last week against Austin Peay.

"He's our hottest guy right now," Cohen said.

Mississippi State dropped three of four games against Florida during the season, including a 7-5 loss to the Gators in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs led 5-2 in the seventh inning, but lost the lead on a grand slam from Florida designated hitter Brian Johnson.

While the win propelled Florida to a late surge in the postseason, Mississippi State also regrouped to win the Georgia Tech regional in Atlanta.

"I don't think our team should have been down about that," Shepherd said. "We outplayed them the whole game. They had their one grand slam that kind of just turned the game around."

Cohen said he doesn't view the familiarity between the two teams playing a major factor this weekend.

"As a coach you can drive yourself crazy kind of analyzing the other club to death," Cohen said. "I think you've got to make it very simple. ... Florida is not going to give you anything. They are not going to walk you. They are not going to give you errors. You have to go out and you have to earn it."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or

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