Exactly 18 years to the day after leaving Omaha following his final game in a Mississippi State uniform, John Cohen accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater with the goal of returning the Bulldogs regularly to Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium.
Cohen was named to head the MSU baseball program June 7, 2008. He joins the Bulldog program following a successful five-year head coaching stint at Southeastern Conference rival Kentucky.
Cohen, who was named the 2006 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year by the College Baseball Foundation and CollegeBaseballinsider.com, led the Kentucky to a pair of NCAA Regional appearances in the last three seasons. He also led the Wildcats to their first-ever SEC Championship in 2006.
In his five seasons at UK, Cohen’s teams compiled a 175-113-1 (.607) record and posted a pair of 44-win seasons – the winningest seasons in school history.
Well-known for his ability as a hitting instructor, Cohen directed the best offensive club in the SEC in 2006, piling up a school-record 500 runs. His 2007 club hit for a stellar .320 average, just one point shy of the UK school record. Cohen’s program utilized a high-powered offensive philosophy to direct the first worst-to-first turnaround in SEC baseball history in 2006, as UK emerged from the SEC basement into a league front runner.
The 2008 season saw the Wildcats rack up school records of highest fielding percentage (.974), putouts (1687), at bats (2157), runs scored (510), doubles (152), RBI (461), sac bunts (75), sac flies (38) and innings pitched (563).
Cohen’s exciting brand of baseball drew national attention, ranking third in the nation in home runs in 2006, third in slugging percentage, seventh in doubles, and 13th in scoring, while leading the SEC in eight offensive categories during the SEC Championship season. In 2007, the potent offense led the NCAA in on-base percentage (.437) and finished sixth nationally in on-base plus slugging.
Cohen’s emphasis on plate discipline led to school records in walks (337) in 2006 and hit by pitches (93) in 2007. Kentucky also broke the school-record for sacrifice bunts (75) in 2008, the fourth time in five years they set a new mark in that category.
Conference and national honors were just beginning in 2006, as Ryan Strieby was named the 2006 SEC Player of the Year following a season in which he hit a team-high .343 and belted 20 home runs while driving in a school-record 77. Strieby highlighted the individual accolades in 2006 with six All-America nods, while teammates John Shelby and Sean Coughlin garnered All-SEC awards. Coughlin was also named to the Pro-Line Cap/NCBWA All-American squad after finishing the season batting .325 with 17 home runs. Another season of Cohen’s tutelage was just what Coughlin needed to increase his professional stock, as the senior backstop earned NCBWA first-team All-America honors after leading the 2007 Wildcat offense with a .344 average, 13 homers and 73 RBI. Coughlin went from a 42nd round draft pick in 2006, to a 13th round selection in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft.
The individual hitting instruction from Cohen translated into a school-record six players taken in the 2006 MLB Draft, including Strieby and Shelby taken in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively. In 2007, Cohen had five players picked up in the MLB Draft, and in 2008 four UK players were drafted in the first 10 rounds – a first in school history.
Cohen has also established himself has one of the best recruiters in the game. His 2004 recruiting class was rated as one of the top 25 by Collegiate Baseball and included one high school All-American and the 2004 Kentucky Mr. Baseball. The 2005 class just missed the top 25 finished with 151 wins – the most in any four-year stretch in school history. Cohen’s 2008 class was tabbed as the 31st best class in the nation. The Sporting News listed four of his incoming 2009 group in the top 27 high school players in the country.
Cohen has also improved Kentucky baseball in the classroom. In his first year, a then-school record nine Wildcats were named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. In 2005, that number jumped to 12. Over the past four years of the Cohen era, UK has placed 39 members on the SEC Academic Honor Roll, including a school best 14 in 2007.
Prior to his arrival in Lexington, Cohen established himself as one of the best hitting coaches in the country with a two year stint at Florida. In Gainesville, his Gator offenses pulverized opponents pitching and led the SEC in nearly every statistical category.
In 2002, Cohen’s offense led the nation in hits while ranking second in batting average, runs scored and home runs. That year, Florida led the Southeastern Conference in nine team categories and set or tied a total of 41 offensive school records (20 team, 21 individual) en route to its most successful season since 1998 (46-19) and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Cohen coached consensus All-Americans Mark Kiger and Pat Osborn, each of whom batted over .400 and scored more than 100 runs. His offense was also balanced with five players hitting 10 or more home runs. Osborn won the SEC batting title and became the fourth league batting champion Cohen has coached.
In the 2003 season, Florida paced the SEC in five offensive categories, including runs per game and batting average while two Gators finished in the top five in the league in batting average for the second consecutive year. Brian Rose became the third Gator to earn All-America honors under Cohen’s tutelage. Bolstered by its tremendous offense, Florida earned its second consecutive NCAA Regional bid.
Prior to his position at Florida, Cohen spent four highly-successful seasons as the head coach at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La.
In that span, he compiled a 146-84 (.635) mark and directed the Demons to a pair of Southland Conference titles in 1998 and 2001. He was named the Southland Coach of the Year during both championship seasons.
His well-rounded clubs set 18 individual and team offensive records during his tenure, while his pitching staff set 10 school marks. The 1998 team posted the fifth-best ERA in the nation (3.82) and his 1999 team carried the nation’s seventh-best fielding percentage (.967).
Excellent on the field and off, the Demon baseball team averaged 18 student-athletes per semester with grade-point averages of 3.0 or better and the 1998 and 1999 teams recorded a team GPA above 3.0.
During Cohen’s time with the Northwestern State baseball program, more than $200,000 in contributions and fund-raising activities was generated after a previous single-year high of $24,000. The Demons’ stadium, Brown-Stroud Field, was the main beneficiary of the funds with grandstand seating increased from 298 to 1,000. The highlight of the efforts came on April 18, 2001 when a school-record 4,214 fans watched Northwestern State knock off defending-national champion LSU.
Over the past five years, Cohen has also become a hot commodity on the baseball speaking circuit. In that time, he has shared his baseball knowledge with more than 100 groups across the country.
Cohen began his career as an assistant coach at Missouri from 1992-1997. He was the chief assistant coach for his final three seasons and served as the Tigers’ hitting instructor and recruiting coordinator.
In 1996, Missouri won the Big Eight championship and advanced to an NCAA Regional for the first time in 16 years. The Tigers broke nine offensive school records that season, part of 17 total records set by Cohen’s offenses in his six years.
A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Cohen traveled across the state line to play his college ball at Mississippi State from 1988-90 under legendary head coach Ron Polk. The Bulldogs advanced to an NCAA Regional each of Cohen’s three years, capped by a run to the 1990 College World Series. In 1989, he led his teams to SEC championship. Cohen finished his career ranked in the top 10 in several statistical categories at Mississippi State.
He earned first-team All-SEC honors as a senior and was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 22nd round of the 1990 Major League Baseball Draft. He spent two years in the Twins’ minor league system before beginning his coaching career.