Cohen's hiring drawing criticism from former coach

JACKSON, Miss. -- John Cohen will be returning home to Mississippi State as its new baseball coach and the man he's replacing, Ron Polk, is not happy about it.

School athletic spokesman Mike Nemeth confirmed the hire Friday after Cohen resigned at Kentucky. Mississippi State will hold a news conference Saturday to introduce its new coach.

The former Mississippi State player led Kentucky to a regional appearance this year and was considered a top candidate for the job after Polk announced his retirement this spring.

The hiring of Cohen apparently did not sit well with Polk.

Polk blasted the school's new athletic director Friday as "utterly cruel" for hiring Kentucky's John Cohen and vowed to remove his name from the stadium and the school from his will.

Polk campaigned for assistant coach Tommy Raffo, a former player who was college teammates with Cohen, since he announced his retirement in March. The outspoken 64-year-old said he warned athletic director Greg Byrne of the consequences if he did not promote Raffo.

"Now he's got me on the war path and all I can do is hurt him," Polk said of Byrne in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Athens, Ga., where he is watching Georgia play North Carolina State in an NCAA super regional. "I'm going to do everything I can to make his life miserable."

A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Cohen has coached at Kentucky since 2004 after serving as an assistant at Florida. He was 175-112-1 with the Wildcats and has an overall record of 321-196-1 in nine years at Kentucky and Northwestern (La.) State. He also was an assistant at Florida and Missouri.

Cohen and Byrne are familiar with each other from their days together at Florida where Cohen was an assistant coach. Byrne was traveling home from Lexington, Ky., on Friday and a spokesman said he would not be available for comment. Cohen did not return messages left on his cell phone.

The 41-year-old Cohen will be introduced Saturday at news conferences in Starkville and Jackson. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said Cohen told him Friday morning he was resigning to take another job. Barnhart promoted associate head coach Gary Henderson to replace Cohen.

Polk resigned in March after 35 years as a head coach, 30 of which were at Mississippi State, where he helped popularize college baseball. His teams won five SEC titles, five SEC tournament championships and made 23 trips to the postseason -- eight to the College World Series.

Polk, 64, said he was disappointed that Cohen went against his wishes, but put the blame on Byrne.

"Now our new athletic director throws me under the bus, slaps me in the face, punches me in the stomach," Polk "Technically, he did the same thing with Tommy Raffo ... and all our coaches, all our signees, returning players and their parents who wanted Tommy all the way."

In addition to taking his name off the stadium, Polk said he will personally take down the banners that display his name and number. He also will use his influence to scuttle a number of support programs, such as the foster parent program and the Dugout Club.

And he's taking Mississippi State athletics out of his will.

"That's coming out," Polk said. "I'm going to go up to Tupelo and design the first 'Until Greg Byrne is Gone' clause."

If Byrne resigns or is fired at some point, Polk said the school is welcome to return his name to the stadium and can expect his support again. Polk has told Cohen he won't have his support until then. He believes Cohen will eventually build a winner, but it will take longer with no smooth transition.

"The only reason why I'm supporting Tommy is John's got a job," Polk said. "He's got a job. Tommy doesn't got a job. John got a break."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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