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Optimism, not Despair, should Surround the Decision to Name John Cohen Athletics Director

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Many are worried about different facets behind the hiring of John Cohen as AD, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism

I get it. John Cohen had the baseball program headed in the right direction, possibly even trending towards the Mississippi St. Bulldogs first team national championship. Taking him from the baseball team is worrisome. I understand everything all the worried Bulldog fans are saying.

But I still don’t buy it.

There certainly are question marks and areas where John Cohen will have to prove himself. But the same things that made John Cohen a successful baseball coach will likely make him a successful Athletics Director.

John Cohen knows how to think outside the box. If there was any doubt about this, he proved by taking one of the most unorthodox approaches to handling a pitching staff anyone has ever seen and riding it to the National Championship round in the College World Series. To be successful at Mississippi State in athletics, you have to be able to look at things from a completely different perspective.

Cohen is also one of the most intense competitors and tenacious people who has ever worked for the university. He wants to succeed at the highest levels and he’ll push the programs at the school to succeed.

Cohen has some things he’ll need to take care of immediately. And we’ll get a sense of just how good of a job he will do early on in his tenure.

Baseball

The first thing John Cohen knew he would have to do if promoted would be to find his own replacement. It looks like he had a clear grasp of where he wanted to go.

After the reports surfaced Cohen was going to be named the AD, about an hour or two later these reports surfaced about LSU hitting coach and recruiting coordinator Andy Cannizaro being announced at a press conference on Monday as his replacement.

I’m not going to try to sugarcoat this. For now, this is a downgrade for our baseball coach. But despite the downgrade, I like the hire. What Cannizaro can do is recruit and evaluate talent. He was doing it as a scout for the Yankees and played a few seasons at the major league level.

Bringing in a guy who has no head coaching experience is a gamble. It would have been easier to go and pluck a head coach from a smaller school and bring them in. But Cohen knows college baseball as well as anyone and if he was so certain about him to make the decision this quickly, I’m on board as well.

Basketball

The Women’s team has already established themselves as one of the best teams in the country, and the men could be well on their way. Each team will provide a challenge for Cohen to ensure each program’s upward trajectory.

For the Women’s Team, fans don’t have to worry about Vic Schaefer leaving until after the 2017-18 season. But once it is over, Cohen will need to do everything he can to ensure he keeps the best coach in the team’s history on the sideline.

Vic Schaefer’s daughter Blair is a junior on this season’s Bulldogs Basketball team. She’ll be there one more year, but many think that might be the time Coach Schaefer decides to test the waters. He’ll have a hard time finding a job in a better position to win than he does the one now, but what if Geno Auriemma, who is seven years older than Schaefer, decides to retire? Does Schaefer consider heading to UConn to try to pick up a national championship in the final few years of his career?

Cohen will have to convince Schaefer to stay if UConn or another legacy program like Tennessee comes available. Coach Schaefer has done enough to warrant the attention of other programs. Cohen will have to make keeping Schaefer a priority.

For the Men’s team, most think Ben Howland is set at Mississippi State until he retires. But he could get the itch to head to bigger jobs if they come available. The one difference between Schaefer and Ben Howland is Howland remembers what it was like to get canned for simply not winning a national championship. Howland’s UCLA teams had a lot of success and even won the PAC-12 Championship is final year there. But Howland was let go because they never hung a banner that mattered. Cohen can easily sell him on the less stressful situation he has at Mississippi State.

Football

The Mississippi St. Bulldogs football team will provide the most significant and immediate challenges for Cohen. Unless there is a drastic change in fortunes for this team, Dan Mullen, the coaches, and the players will be at a crossroads. The bowl streak is likely over and there are glaring holes all over the roster.

Hiring Cohen as the AD ensures Mullen won’t be fired. John Cohen was in a very similar situation to Mullen in 2015. After reaching the National Championship round, two years later, the Bulldogs were the worst team in the SEC. Mullen and the football team are near the bottom, if not the very bottom, just two years after being ranked number one in the country for five weeks in a row. If Mullen isn’t the coach in 2017, it won’t be because he was fired.

Making things more complicated is Dan Mullen’s contract. Dan Mullen did not receive an extension after the 2015 season, most likely due to his constant marketing of himself to other programs. Mullen’s reaction to the move was to hire one of the biggest sharks in sports agents Jimmy Sexton.

Jimmy Sexton is going to make it his priority to get Mullen a new job or a contract extension. The reason is because Sexton only gets his commission for contracts he negotiates. Sexton will likely shop Mullen hard to other programs, even if they aren’t any higher in caliber than Mississippi State, so he can have leverage to use for an extension for Mullen.

This is where we’ll find out the quickest if Cohen will be a good AD. Dan Mullen has done nothing to deserve an extension. He wasn’t given one for doing the exact thing Sexton will try to do this offseason, shop Mullen’s talents to the highest bidder. If Sexton approaches Cohen and says extend Mullen or he’s gone, Cohen has to stand firm and let him walk out the door. In my eyes, this will be the most important indicator of how Cohen will do as an AD in his first three months on the job.

There are plenty of other issues Mullen and Cohen will have to address. There are definite changes that need to be made within the program, but all of those will come second to when Jimmy Sexton picks up the phone and tries to force Cohen into giving Mullen an extension.

Is there another person you want in that chair staring down one of the most ruthless sharks? It’s hard to think of anyone in my mind. Cohen isn’t going to let Sexton bully him into anything. This is a test John Cohen was made for.

Other Issues

There are other areas we don’t know about Cohen. Stricklin made the Hail State brand very recognizable across the SEC and even the country. Cohen will need to maintain the momentum Stricklin had rolling when he left in that area.

Stricklin was amazing at raising money. This is another area Cohen will have to prove himself. MAny think he can’t, but they have nothing to base it on.

I believe Cohen will get the job done because he’s been successful at everything he has done. He knows he will have things to improve upon, and he’ll put forth the effort to do so. I’m not guaranteeing he’ll be a great AD, but I certainly wouldn’t bet against gim