Friday was a busy day on the coaching carousel, as former Mississippi State outfielder John Cohen left his position as Kentucky’s head coach to accept the Bulldogs’ head coaching job. The Wildcats wasted no time replacing him, elevating pitching coach Gary Henderson to head coach.
Incoming MSU athletics director Greg Byrne wanted to make a splash in his first major move in Starkville, and he succeeded. Since longtime coach Ron Polk retired at the end of the season, the Bulldogs have courted big names like Oregon State’s Pat Casey, Baylor’s Steve Smith and former big league manager Buck Showalter, but Cohen was right near the top of their list from the beginning. And he should have been: In five seasons at Kentucky, Cohen transformed the Wildcats from a perennial doormat into a perennial contender, guiding them to regionals in two of the last three years and winning the Southeastern Conference championship in 2006.
UK offered Cohen a substantial raise to stay, according to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, but the Wildcats just couldn’t compete with a chance to become the Mississippi State coach. That opportunity was "a dream of mine forever," Cohen told the Clarion-Ledger after stepping off a jet and being greeted by a crowd of a few dozen.
You have to feel for longtime Mississippi State assistant Tommy Raffo, who was Polk’s choice to succeed him and who would have done a fine job. He knows the program and the players, and he’s a very knowledgeable baseball man. Raffo being passed over could cause ripples in the clubhouse, not to mention elsewhere in the MSU community.
Polk told the (Louisville) Courier-Journal that he felt "punched in the stomach" that Raffo was passed over. Polk told the paper he wants his name taken off the school’s baseball stadium.
Kentucky, meanwhile, should be in fine shape with Henderson at the helm. As the recruiting coordinator and pitching coach at Oregon State prior to coming to Lexington, Henderson brought in the foundation for OSU’s two national title teams. The Wildcats look poised to bring in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class this year, as elite recruits Alex Meyer (20th), Daniel Webb (12th) and Andy Burns (25th) slipped in the draft because of signability and could wind up at school. The Wildcats are also privately confident that lefthander Robbie Ross, a second-round pick of the Rangers, is determined to come to Lexington. Their other second-rounder, righthander Seth Lintz (Brewers), is more up in the air but is known to be an outstanding student.
Assistant Brad Bohannon will stay in Lexington as the recruiting coordinator, and he’s already working the phones to shepherd his prized recruits to campus.
The last obstacle is a new stadium, and Henderson told the Courier-Journal he was confident that would materialize in the next few years.
"The University of Kentucky and what we offer kids is outstanding," Henderson told the paper. "A baseball stadium will improve that, obviously.
"But what we have is plenty to offer. It’s worked in the past, and we’re going to make this thing work whether we get a stadium in two years or four."
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