VAUGHT: Best coaching job at UK? John Cohen

The NCAA did exactly the right thing by allowing the Kentucky baseball team to host a NCAA Regional even though it lost both games it played in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and lost four of its last five going into NCAA play.

But to have punished UK for one five-game stretch and ignored what the Cats have done the rest of the year would have been ludicrous, even by NCAA standards.

Coach John Cohen has done an unbelievable job with the baseball team this year. He's taken a team picked to finish last in the SEC and tied for the league championship. To me, it's the best coaching job anyone has done at UK in the 30 years I've been covering the Wildcats.

Sure, you can argue that others have done as well, or better. But my reason for putting Cohen at the top of my list is because of UK's past struggles in baseball and how well his team maintained its poise and good play down the stretch when it would have been easy for the Cats to crumble and turn a great season into merely a good one. Instead, Cohen kept his team playing like an underdog even when it was beating everyone.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give him a 12 for the job he's done this year. Here are some other coaches who I think have also done superb jobs as I considered whether Cohen deserved to be No. 1 on my list:

1. Tubby Smith — His national championship season has to rank among the all-time best coaching jobs at Kentucky. He took players Pitino left him, made them accept his system and won the national title with some memorable comeback victories. Down the stretch, Smith seemed to make every right call and he did not let the pressure distract his team. Another 10 for this season.

2. Joe Hall — I still rank the job he did during the 1977-78 national championship season as one of the best ever. The team was known for its business like approach and was criticized for having no fun. But trust me, this team had plenty of fine and Hall had to walk a fine line keeping a talented, diverse group focused only on winning. I've never thought Hall got the credit he deserved for coaching this team — and he never will. But he gets a 10 from me.

3. Rick Pitino — His first year might have been one of the most enjoyable I've seen at Kentucky. He took a team not many people wanted to coach and finished 13-13. More importantly, he restored hope to Kentucky basketball, something I wasn't sure was possible when the previous season ended. I gave him a 10 for that year.

4. Mickie DeMoss — Come on, beating No. 1 Tennessee. That's not supposed to happen in women's basketball at Kentucky. But much like Pitino did his first season at UK, DeMoss has made people believe that UK can win — and then her team did it. This year they not only were fun to watch, but they won on the road and nearly pulled off a second-round upset in the NCAA Tournament. Several games drew over 10,000 fans — an amazing feat. For this, she gets a 10.

5. Fran Curci — His 1977 team is still the best I've seen UK have. It had size, speed, power and experience. Yes, the Cats were on NCAA probation that year, but Curci's team still went 10-1 and easily could have been undefeated. They were unbeaten in SEC play — something that now seems like an impossibility for any league team, not just Kentucky. The job he did rates a 9.5 in my book.

Maybe you have others in mind that merit mention. However, until someone can convince me, Cohen is going to remain No. 1 on my list for what he's already done this season.


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