Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

MSU Athletic Director John Cohen talks about the differences between being a coach and an athletic director

Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen has been an athletic director for six months. He was an assistant and head coach for almost 25 years. He offers his unique perspective on how each position differs from the other.


The first thing he noticed was the challenges that he had as an athletic director.

"I think the biggest challenge has been constantly having to reprioritizing your time," said Cohen. "You don't have to do that as a coach. As an example, if it is three o'clock and we are practicing baseball nothing outside of a family emergency will take me away from that practice. And I'm not even sure if we ever had a family emergency that stopped me from going to practice.

"But in this role as an athletic director, if I have a meeting and there is something else that comes up and I have to be a part of it, I have to cancel that meeting and go to that event. That happened recently when we had a great tragedy in the Bulldog family and I had to cancel everything to be there for that tragedy.

"Another great example of that is last week we had a little bit of an event that we had to take care of and you are sitting in my office waiting on me for my interview with you. But the event happened so I had to reprioritize my time.

"When your responsibilities involve a much larger group of people things that happen that involve those people immediately alters your schedule. As a coach, you are staying on your schedule. I think that is the biggest difference."

When you are the face of Mississippi State athletics that is also a challenge in itself.

"Another thing is that you are constantly representing Mississippi State everywhere you are," said Cohen. "And you always want to make sure you represent Mississippi State the right way.

"As a coach, you are representing Mississippi State when you are recruiting or during a game or when you are in the public. The other times you aren't. Instead you are preparing for the game or the practice. As an athletic director, you are always representing Mississippi State."

He also explained the differences in the demands of the two positions.

"As for the demand of the two positions, I would say the most demanding thing as a coach is the emotional energy spent on the performance of your kids in the classroom, on the field during a game, in practice, in the community," said Cohen. "There is a lot of emotional energy spent on that. Most of it is really good but some of it isn't. When you lose a ballgame a really successful coach wears that. As an example, Vic Schaefer went 34 and 5 but those five losses weigh on him. When you are the coach, you are going to relive that game over and over in your mind. There is no amount of wins that can offset those losses.

"When you are the athletic director you spend much less emotional energy on things because you don't have time for emotional energy. You can't because there are numerous sporting events going on; there is a game going on in one place and there is a track meet going on in Nashville, Tennessee. Women's basketball is still playing and spring football practice is going on. Then, there is recruiting going on in different sports. You don't have time to spend that emotional energy on any one sport."

Both positions also have their unique enjoyment.

"What makes coaching fun to me is seeing kids come back who are extremely successful whether it be in baseball, a career in real estate, law, medicine or business. Or they have a great family," said Cohen. "As a coach, you try to help prepare your kids for the battle in a baseball game as well as the battles that happen in life. (As a former coach) it also makes me happy seeing (former MSU assistant coach) Butch Thompson fighting for a Western Division title for most of the year or seeing (former MSU assistant coach) Nick Mingione named SEC Coach of the Year That is the rewarding stuff as a coach.

"The things that I enjoy as an athletic director is going to a Monday meeting with the vice presidents of the university almost in the exact spot where I took an English class when I was a student here 28 or 29 years ago," said Cohen. "That is an incredible feeling. It is fun seeing Andy Cannizaro take a team that is wounded and struggling and provide energy and get them in the middle of a Western Division title. It is also an incredible feeling being part of the Starkville and Mississippi State communities. I feel like I get to work with the best president in the country, Dr. Keenum. All of it is enjoyable. Even the things that are incredibly difficult are somewhat enjoyable."

He has also discovered a few things as an athletic director that he didn't know about.

"I have discovered things that I missed when I was coaching baseball," said Cohen. "I remember two different occasions watching our tennis teams play while a baseball game was going on. I was sitting with John Cade and he told me that we had just turned a double play. I asked him how he knew. He said he heard the crowd cheer. He said that is how they cheer when we turn a double play. I asked him what is the difference. He told me that he has been sitting over here a long time and that he can tell the difference in the cheers. It is unbelievable but he can listen to our crowd and understand what is going on during our baseball game. And I started listening to our crowd and he was 100% right.

"Another thing I learned is how much the tennis athletes put into their sport. I didn't know how much conditioning they have to go through or how great of students they are. I now have a much deeper appreciation of all of our coaches and all of our student-athletes."


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