May 3, 2013 8:52:19 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- They don't talk much about it, meet every year at reunions, or give donations to the organization.
However, Mitch Gaspard and John Cohen are part of a what they refer to as "a unique coaching fraternity down in Louisiana."
That fraternity is shared among men who have led teams at Northwestern State University. Gaspard, who is the head baseball coach at the University of Alabama, and Cohen, who holds the same position at Mississippi State University, know what it's like to have overwhelming success at a low-Division I school.
Seven former or current Southeastern Conference coaches have spent time as a head coach or as an assistant at the Southland Conference school in Natchitoches, La.
"I think it's a conversation I've had with nearly everybody we've played this season," Cohen said with a laugh on his media teleconference Thursday. "From (University of Arkansas coach) Dave Van Horn to (University of Mississippi coach) Mike Bianco) to (Texas A&M coach) Rob Childress, we all bring it up at one point or another."
After Cohen left NSU to become an assistant coach for his mentor Pat McMahon at the University of Florida, Gaspard was hired to lead the Demons. Cohen went 108-67 in three seasons at NSU, including a Southland Conference championship in his first season in 1998. Gaspard, who had been an assistant coach at Alabama for seven seasons, led the Demons to two Southland Conference championships, one SLC tournament championship, and a place in the 2005 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional in his six seasons with the program.
"I have so much respect for Mitch as a coach and a person in this league that I immediately thought he was the right guy when they made the decision," Cohen said.
Not only do Cohen and Gaspard understand how to win in smaller conferences, they also know how to win at the highest level and how to step in and follow successful coaches. Cohen was the highly publicized hire to replace Ron Polk at MSU, while Gaspard replaced Jim Wells, the school's all-time winningest coach. This weekend, both coaches will square off in an attempt to improve their chances to earning a spot in the SEC tournament.
"Mitch is a bright, young, energetic coach with a great passion for the game of baseball," Wells said. "He is an outstanding recruiter and teacher. He is a tireless worker and is one of the main reasons we were so successful in the early stages of building our program at Northwestern State and Alabama."
Both programs are looking for separation from the middle pack of the SEC. Teams from third to eighth place are just three games apart.
"It's gonna be, if I'm not mistaken, the seventh time out of eight weekends we're playing a team that's coming off winning a series," Cohen said. "I don't get surprised by anything in our league because everyone is good."
MSU sophomore Woodruff out for rest of season after elbow surgery
MSU sophomore right-hander Brandon Woodruff will have a surgical procedure on his right elbow and will miss the rest of the season.
Cohen confirmed Woodruff's status Thursday in his media teleconference, but he was unable to talk about the details of the procedure.
Woodruff felt elbow tenderness in January and was trying to regain the strength in his arm. He pitched just 18 2/3 innings in eight games this season. It is unknown if this procedure is related to the elbow tenderness he felt in the winter. Woodruff told The Dispatch in April it was "the first injury situation I had to deal with in my career."
The Wheeler native, a former fifth-round pick out of high school by the Texas Rangers in the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft, failed to get out of the second inning in three of six starts.
"He had a little surgery (for) something that's been gnawing at him for a little while," Cohen said. "It went very, very well. We feel like this is something that's really going to enhance his career at Mississippi State and professionally."
Woodruff (1-1, 4..34) won't play in the Cape Cod League this summer. Cohen said Woodruff will start his rehabilitation in the summer and should be ready for fall practices.
While Cohen didn't feel comfortable talking about the specifics of the surgery beyond the location of the arm, he said it wasn't Tommy John surgery, a ligament replacement procedure, and had nothing to do with a ligament problem in the elbow.
"We think his prognosis is great," Cohen said. "He's not going to pitch again this year, but will be back in the fall."
In his last start against the University of Mississippi on April 9 at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Woodruff lasted 1 1/3 innings and allowed one run on three hits in 21 pitches. In that outing, Woodruff didn't throw a pitch faster than 85 mph. After the 5-1 victory, MSU sophomore left-handed reliever Ross Mitchell said Woodruff "was sore" and had to leave the game.
Woodruff was expected to compete for one of three weekend starter roles this season. If he is healthy, he could compete for a weekend rotation spot next season.
Woodruff and sophomore pitcher Jacob Lindgren confirmed to The Dispatch throughout the draft process they turned down offers of more than $500,000 from professional franchises to attend MSU.