Mississippi State's New Pitching Coach Already on the Job

Wes Johnson already intended to start fast. He probably didn’t expect walking straight from his introductory press conference to observe a bullpen session.

Then again, why not get to work immediately? “We’ve got to win today,” said Mississippi State’s new pitching coach.

Johnson was presented Friday after arriving to campus a little late. That was due to travel issues (read: Delta) and getting him from Dallas to Starkville for the scheduled media meeting. Soon as that was done, he and Coach John Cohen immediately went to Dudy Noble Field for a pitcher’s workout.

“This opportunity is incredible,” Johnson said. “I believe this is the best place in the country to play college baseball.”

It is an excellent opportunity for both Johnson and Mississippi State moundsmen. Johnson, 44, moves to Starkville after four seasons as pitching coach at Dallas Baptist University. He is a 18-year coaching veteran, nine of them in college jobs in Arkansas and Texas.

“We’re proud to have Wes Johnson,” Cohen said. This selection broke Thursday as Gene Swindoll of GenesPage.com reported Mississippi State had selected Johnson after his weekend interview with Cohen.

“What’s not a secret is the success he’s had in his career,” Cohen said. “We’re excited to have him here in Starkville.”

Johnson replaces Butch Thompson, who accepted the head coaching position at Auburn after seven seasons at Mississippi State. Thompson is the second former Cohen aide now running a SEC program. When Cohen returned to Mississippi State assistant Gary Henderson was promoted to head coach. Also, four-year Bulldog assistant Lane Burroughs has been head coach at Northwestern (La.) State for the past three seasons.

Cohen had enough advance warning of Thompson’s departure to get this hiring done not too long after fall baseball practices and scrimmages ended. Though, “This is a strange time of the year to have transition in your program,” Cohen said. “I want to thank our players because they’ve been absolute troopers about this.”

Johnson said he was contacted by Cohen “I’d say probably a week ago Tuesday.” State and DBU haven’t crossed paths on a field for years, but Johnson knew enough about this program to be immediately interested. “I think Coach Cohen is the best coach in the country, I love the way he does things. It’s real similar to the way I think as well.”

That thinking is “a little different” in one respect to handling a staff. “I believe 100% in what I call ‘hyper-personalization,” Johnson said. Meaning, he explained, working to the pitcher’s specific strengths…or more so not forcing someone to throw things he doesn’t do well.

“With that comes individual plans for each guy.” As for the guys he will be coaching now, Johnson begins meeting them today…but he’s already got some reports. As soon as his hiring leaked out, scouting friends told Johnson he was inheriting a staff stocked with arms already throwing in the 90s.

About taking charge of everyone after fall scrimmaging is done, that is not a setback. “I actually think this is a great time of year to come in,” said Johnson. “We’re going to have a chance to implement our system, send them home to work on that system.”

Johnson’s reputation is built on power pitching. This past year the Patriots scored a school-record 46 victories and hosted NCAA Regional play for the first time in the program’s 44 seasons. They earned NCAA bids both the previous years.

DBU was led by a pitching staff with a 3.32 ERA and strikeouts-to-walks rate of 2.34. They struck out a combined 506 batters and allowed opponents a .248 batting average.

In the last three seasons seven Patriot pitchers have been drafted in the first ten rounds.

Cohen made clear how free a hand Johnson now has. “Wes is going to run our pitching staff. He’s going to do everything he can to get the most out of them. That’s his role and he’s very gifted.”

Besides getting to immediate work with the pitchers he inherits, Johnson joins a Mississippi State finalizing fall recruiting. The NCAA’s early signing period runs November 11-18. According to Swindoll there are a reported 13 commitments already declared for State.

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