A Q&A with MSU Baseball Coach John Cohen

Every guy you hired on your staff has been a recruiting coordinator at other schools. Obviously, there are reasons for that. What are they?
“I think it’s the most important thing that we do. Improving players, making players better is really important, but if you don’t have the talent level in the Southeastern Conference it’s just not going to happen for you.
“Getting talent and creating the right type of makeup … you aren’t just recruiting talent, but you are also recruiting makeup. And a recruiting coordinator – a guy who has been on the road, a guy who has been on the phone, a guy who has relationships with scouts and high school coaches – is a guy who knows how to ask the questions that the novice or new person doesn’t know to ask.
“Really, you are asking the same question over and over again, but in a different way. You can’t just ask, ‘how tough is this kid?’ You say, ‘give me an example of how tough this kid is? What has he done in a game or practice? Tell me how tough he is?’

“Everybody has bad days, but you can’t recruit players who have bad days (and they let it affect them in games or practices). Players go 0 for 3 and pitchers don’t throw to location. But if they have a bad day in practice and they pull everyone else around them down, no matter how talent they are you are recruiting the wrong player.

“It’s not just recruiting talent, but it’s putting the right people in our environment. Lane Burroughs may call me and tell me he has a guy he really likes who throws 88 to 92, has a slider and can spin it, he’s athletic and can play shortstop. My question to him is, ‘how tough is the kid?’ He may say, ‘I was just talking to his coach and he said he’s not afraid to throw it inside.’ To me, those are the conversations that help you win the big one down the road. I want toughness. Toughness is everything. Toughness shows up when things aren’t going your way.

“I feel very fortunate because I played at Mississippi State with some really tough kids. Barry Winford was a tough guy. He was a defensive back for the football team here. Tracy Jobes was a tough guy. Pete Young might have been one of the toughest kids that I have ever competed against. Jon Shave was a tough guy. Tommy Raffo was a tough, tough, tough kid when he played here. We had real toughness. That, along with a talent level, is what we are trying to get here, right now.”

It’s probably easy for a coach to see a hitter who has great bat speed or a pitcher with a great fastball, but toughness is not always easy to see. How will you be able to identify that toughness?
“We are going to be on the road continuously and we are going to have to rely on coaches. The great thing is, between Lane Burroughs, Butch Thompson, there is not a whole lot of the state that don’t know very, very well and intimately. And then you consider what Butch has done from a recruiting standpoint in the state of Alabama when he was at Auburn. And the ties they have even into Tennessee. And something great for us is the one year Lane spent in the midwest establishing ties up there. And having Nick Mingione on our staff, who was the recruiting coordinator at Western Carolina, which has a great baseball tradition, is great for us.

“I think recruiting … I don’t really call it recruiting but evaluating. We are constantly evaluating kids. Recruiting is what you do at the end when you are trying to talk them into coming here. The tough thing is the evaluating process. Who do you want to be here? Out of that huge pool of people, who fits into what we are trying to do here? That’s what makes it extremely difficult.”