One On One With Incoming MSU AD Greg Byrne

Mississippi State's incoming athletic director Greg Byrne did a one on one interview with Gene's Page about the process of hiring MSU's new head baseball coach, John Cohen.

When did you start this process?
"You are always in the process. You always have a short list of every coaching position. But when the time comes, do you expand that list? Absolutely. And one of your responsibilities is to always understand where the market is. What coaches are out there? Who is doing well?

"Then, when Coach Polk announced his retirement and (MSU Interim President) Dr. (Vance) Watson made it known how the search was going to go, from that point on I spent a lot of time and energy focused on that on a daily basis."

Was John Cohen on your short list?

Who else was on your short list?
"I can't name them."

Where did you do your interviews?
"We went to a couple of different states. That's all I can say because I don't want to hurt any of the coaching that I talked to."

You mentioned that you talked to six coaches. Were they just in the southeast and southwest or were they from the west to the east?
"There were six candidates. That's all I can say. I promised them I wouldn't say who they were. Part of the reason I did that is because I didn't want them using that as leverage against us and part of the reason was to protect what they were doing with their programs."

Did you offer the job to one coach or more than one coach?
"We offered it to one coach - John Cohen."

Of the six candidate, was John way above the others or slightly ahead of some of them?
"It was a very clear decision. He was our top candidate."

What separated him from the rest?
"His passion for college baseball, his passion for Mississippi State and his focus on baseball. I love the intensity and the toughness that his teams have. I think those are very important in today's baseball world. Academically, he is very sound. (NCAA) compliance he is very sound. In every area that you want, he had experience."

Now that you have gone through it, would you want to be a committee of one again?
"I used Mike Nemeth a lot during the process. He sat in the interviews and in the phone interviews this week when we talked to John (Cohen). I also talked to Strat (Karatassos), Bart Gregory, Jim Ellis. What I asked for was their input. Then, I might have a question or two for them. I also talked to a lot of our former players. What I was looking for was a lot of input."

What kind of support did John Cohen get from former players?
"Everybody was great. It couldn't have been better."

There is more to a program than paying the head coach a great salary. Are you increasing the baseball budget throughout the program?
"Yeah, there were other areas that we needed to make a commitment to to make this happen. I think we were a little behind on where our assistant salaries are. So, we are moving that up. We are adding a baseball operations person. The recruiting budget is going to increase. ."

How will you pay for all of these new commitments to the baseball budget?
"We are going to explore every financial opportunity out there."

You and the Kentucky athletic director are, as you told me once, like brothers. How difficult was it to take his baseball head coach? And how is the relationship now that you have signed John Cohen?
"Yeah, we are very close. It was hard. As for our relationship, we are still great."

Go through the process of contacting him and go from there?
"Mitch is so competitive. That's what makes him so good at what he does. And I know how highly he values John as a baseball coach. So, I knew when it became clear that John was somebody we were going to give serious consideration to, I knew I was going to have to make that call and asked for permission to talk to him.

"I did it. And it was actually a pretty short call. We talked about our friend Billy and then family for a few minutes. Then, I said, 'Mitch, you know why I am calling.' I told him I was asking for permission to talk to John. He granted me that, but asked me to wait until Tuesday, which I did. Then, we got on the phone Tuesday and started talking."

Were you worried that it might get into a bidding war for John?
"I knew if it was going to be about finances Kentucky could put more on the table. But for Coach Cohen it's about his passion for Mississippi State."

You told me early in the process that you weren't going to use planes or send emails. Did you stick to that until the very end of the process?
"Yes, yesterday was the first plane flight that I took."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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