A Recruiting Q&A With John Cohen

Gene's Page sat down with Mississippi State head baseball coach John Cohen and did a one-on-one recruiting interview.

I can't remember the last time Mississippi State baseball had five signees drafted. What are the ramification of having so many signees drafted?
John Cohen - "There is the good and the bad. The good thing is you are recruiting the right guys. The bad thing is you are trying to thread a very tiny needle.

"I've been doing this for 20 years. And I've held on to a 5th rounder and I've lost a 45th rounder. Every organization is different, every situation is different, families financial situations are different, the way kids and their parents treat education differs from family to family. So, it truly is a challenge. It's being on your cell phone a lot. It's recharging your cell phone three times a day. Gene, yesterday, I was on my cell phone almost six straight hours with nothing but signees and some other recruiting matters. Kids have choices and you are never 100% sure exactly what they are going to do.

"I think some of these kids in this class have a chance to be a part of changing our program. The difference between being able to change your program or not is having the right kids show up on campus. It is a challenge (to make that happen). We are talking to (pro) scouts, moms, dads. I've had extended conversation with three different members of the same family, sometimes four. And even sometimes girlfriends. It is a difficult job but one that we have to do. And I know exactly what it takes because I have been at other places. You have to outwork people. Folks that just let it lie, they have to be lucky. But we are trying to go beyond the luck and make it happen.

"I'm a big believer that you win three years from now based off of what you are doing right now. Things you see on the field in Super Regionals are based off of what happened 3 and 4 years ago by a coaching staff, not on the field but off the field."

You mentioned that you have lost a 45th rounder. So, having so many of your signees drafted in the 40-ish rounds doesn't guarantee that they will be on campus in the fall does it?
"No, some organizations have a lot more money in their war chests than others. Some organizations might not be able to sign 5 or 6 of their top 10 rounders. So, all of a sudden, they see that their 45th rounder is touching 92-93 with a good breaking ball. If they can't sign 5 or 6 of their top 10 round guys, then they have money available, so they think let's go get this guy. That can happen, so you are monitoring a lot of different things. It's a very detailed, complicated process. And it's very time consuming."

You had five players drafted, but if you took out the signability factor, how many more, potentially, could have been drafted?
"I feel two, maybe three other guys, could have been drafted but weren't because of the signability factor and maybe a possible injury factor."

Although most of your signees that were drafted were selected in the 40+ rounds, many of them could have been drafted earlier. Why do you think they were drafted so late?
"It was based on signability, what they would sign for. If the (dollar) number is too high, then an organization doesn't want to waste an early pick on somebody they don't have as good of a chance to sign."

Why even draft them then?
"If you are a scout there is no reason not to because you have until August 15th to make a decision about a kid. If it is a pitcher you have the chance to see him pitch 2, 3 or 4 more times before the August 15th deadline. And crazy things have happened in that regard."

Are all of your signees playing this summer?
"Yes, all of them are playing at some level. (Draftee) C.T. Bradford and Adam Frazier are playing for the Florida Bombers. I talked to both of them yesterday. In fact, C.T. hit two home runs this weekend."

Am I correct in saying if Bradford was a couple of inches taller, he could have been an extremely high draft pick?
"Yes, I think that is a pretty safe assumption. He plays like somebody who is 6-5. He is a special, special player. We have big plans for C.T. Bradford. We think he is going to be a great one."

If the signability factor wasn't so strong what round do you think Daryl Norris and Taylor Stark would have been drafted based on what you saw and based on talking to pro scouts?
"I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility that Taylor goes in the top 5 round. He had that option. He is just an explosive athlete. There is a lot of fast twitch there. With Daryl, I feel very similar about him. I think he is a top 5 rounder if the signability factor wasn't there. They are both special kids. I think the entire group is special. If they hadn't put so much value on the Mississippi State experience, I think they could have gotten solid top-5 round type of money."

How many manhours do you think you, Lane Burroughs and Butch Thompson put in recruiting this year's class?
"This is an interesting story. When I get on the phone and recruit, I like to walk. Greg Drye, who works for us as the assistant strength and conditioning coach, had a monitor that you put on your belt that tells you how far you have run or walked. There was a day this fall when I was on the phone and I had that monitor on my belt. At one point I walked almost 11 miles while I was on the phone. I was on the phone between 5 and 6 hours and I kept walking. I remember because it was on a Sunday and it started about 4 o'clock and I got off the phone about 10 o'clock. I forgot that I had the monitor on."

When it comes to the recruiting process, are you three on the phone just about every day?
"Yeah, but Butch and Lane are on the phone more than I am for obvious reasons. We all have different roles and we all have different contacts around the country. We are fortunate that Lane spent some time in the mid-west and has done a lot in Texas. And he has spent a lot of time recruiting Mississippi. Butch, obviously, has done a great job in Georgia and Alabama, and to a lesser extent in Mississippi. And I have connections in Florida as well as in Kentucky and Tennessee. We want to use as many contacts as we possibly can."

Percentage-wise, how much of your time is spent on recruiting?
"The recruiting portion of it is very low. The word I like to use is evaluating. You spend a lot of your time evaluating. It is like hunting and fishing. If you really want to catch fish you had better talk to some people who really know the lake before you go to the lake. So, most of your time is spent on the phone trying to figure out where you want to go. And the people you talk to have to be people you can depend on. You don't want to go see a guy who you were told is 87-92 and you show up and he is throwing 77-82."

I know guys getting drafted proves that they are talented players. But can the fact that you had a lot of signees drafted enhance your ability to sign talented players during next year's class? Can that be used as a recruiting tool?
"Yes, there is no question about that. The thing that has to happen is two-fold. And this is exactly what happened at Kentucky and I really anticipate that it is going to happen here. You have to create top-10 round draft picks and you have to win. Kids want to play professional baseball and they want to win. For a variety of reasons we have struggled in those two areas the last few years. That is why recruiting is so important to us. We are investing in the future. Yes, every time you get a great player on campus he is going to be a freshman or a first-year junior college player. You know they are going to struggle at first but you are investing in the future. It is important for your future the level of player you are bringing in."

The highest ranked recruiting class in Mississippi State baseball history was one that was ranked No. 1 and it included a lot of Mississippi kids. Do you see that kind of class happening again at Mississippi State, and primarily with Mississippi kids?
"No question, but I think it goes in cycles. Not having recruited Mississippi until I got here, I am amazed how many good players there are in the state of Mississippi based on its population. But you also have to realize, in a given year, there might not be that catcher you need or that lefthanded pitcher that you are looking for, so you will have to go out of state. This program has always done that."

This year's class could wind up being your second straight top-10 recruiting class. Are you getting closer to catching up with the other teams in the SEC due to these two strong recruiting classes?
"Every team in our league has done a nice job recruiting. Every team in our league is having ranked recruiting classes. In some respects we are playing catch-up to those other teams. We are trying to compete at the same level as everybody else. When you watch the Super Regionals, you realize you can finish 8th place in the Southeastern Conference and have the chance to win the national championship. LSU finished 8th in our league, won the SEC Tournament and could have gotten on a run. We are right there. I didn't think we had a great club by any stretch of the imagination, but if we had been in some other leagues in the country we might have won 30-something games and played in a regional. In our league, if you aren't a top level team you are just not going to win. That's how good our league is. Five teams played in Super Regionals. That says a lot. But, yeah, we are closing the gap."

You, and to an even bigger extent, Lane and Butch are spending an unbelievable time recruiting. To close that gap do you three have to recruit harder than all the other SEC programs?
"What happens on the field is what coaches were doing three, four years ago. I am a huge believer in that. I can draw a straight line at Kentucky. When we got it going, I remember the moments in the homes of the kids when we got them to say yes and then they showed up on campus. And it showed up later on the field. I remember exactly how it happened. Those battles that you win in recruiting are the reasons that you win 2, 3, 4 years down the road. That is why it is so important for us to win those battles. And I think last year and this year we won some battles."

Once you start winning and you have the right players on campus, will you be able to scale back your intensity when it comes to recruiting?
"No, it is full speed ahead all the time. That is the way it has to be. And I think any coach in the SEC or in any high level of college baseball will tell you when your season starts is the most relaxed time of the year for you. You can't recruit in January and February so it's the most relaxed time of the year. In terms of recruiting, you can't go on the road, you have signed your early signing class. The (summer) is the time of the year when we are our busiest. This time and the fall are the times when we are at our busiest. You have camps going on and you have full scale recruiting. I tell my guys all the time I don't want to hear about a guy in Mississippi, Alabama or Louisiana that we don't know about. I want us to know about every single one of them. That doesn't mean we are going to get them, but I want us to be aware of them. And I want it documented as to why we chose to recruit them or why we didn't."

Is part of the process of learning about players through the fans? I'm referring to fans sending players names to you or one of your coaches by email, by text or by calling on the phone.
"We are very fortunate that the Mississippi State fanbase is constantly emailing us and calling us with names. It was more than at Kentucky and probably more than at Florida. And I have no problem with that. In fact, I enjoy that. Now, that doesn't mean every one of those kids can play on this level."

You spend a lot of time going out to watch kids play. Is it normal for a head coach to go out as much as you do when it comes to recruiting?
"I think every staff is different. The most valuable weapon you have in recruiting is the phone. The phone is what takes you in the right direction most of the times."

But you still have to see them.
"You do have to see them, but you have to know where they are. If you can go see five of them instead of one of them you do that. You are constantly having to make those kind of decisions. When you can only have two coaches on the road at one time recruiting, you have to be as efficient as possible. Lane and Butch do the lion's share of being on the road. What I do is more phone-related, but, yeah, I go out."

Why, specifically, do you normally go out?
"Most of the times if I go see a guy it is a cross check type thing. If Butch and Lane want me to see a guy and tell them what my thoughts are, I'll go out and watch him. Or it could be a Corey Dickerson type thing where I have a chance to make contact with a kid after we have signed him. I'm trying to get a guy like that as much information as possible. Some people might say we spent all that time on him and he ended up signing. But I felt like we had a great relationship with Corey and maybe if any other club had drafted him we might have had a real chance of keeping him. But the right club drafted him and the right scout did his homework on him."

From now until August 15th what do you, Butch and Lane do recruiting-wise?
"We will work hard on 2011s and 2012s (prospects) and there are still some junior college guys who are in the mix for us for next year. We are constantly contacting our (current) class to make sure they are in great condition when they get here. We are constantly monitoring kids who are in summer school here. We will also probably have 1,000 kids come through our camps this summer. And we are evaluating and teaching them. There is a lot going on."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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