April 17, 2014 7:19:18 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- John Cohen sees the job his former boss at Missouri is doing with a unique perspective. He's lived it.
Tim Jamieson has guided Missouri baseball through the best stretch of success in program history and now with the Tigers in the second year of its move to the Southeastern Conference, it's clear the program is in rebuilding mode.
Cohen worked under Jamieson for three seasons (1995-97) after being a graduate assistant with the Tigers program for three seasons (1992-94). Cohen understands the barriers setting Missouri baseball back as they try to find some way to compete in the nation's best baseball conference.
"I'm just going to say it - to manage the program at Missouri you have to deal with a lot of factors that a lot of other coaches in the SEC don't," Cohen said. "One of which is weather. You're recruiting with the same athletic ability but with the disadvantage of the weather as well. Quite frankly, from a facilities standpoint, they weren't where other were in the Big 12 or SEC."
Cohen watched his daughters be born in Missouri, earned a masters degree in Sports Management at Missouri and learned how to mold his craft as a coach in the Show Me State. The one thing he says he learned the most was separating personal feelings with being mentally locked in when the game actually starts.
"And then they throw that first pitch and you're in the middle of a crucial SEC series that you have to win," Cohen said.
Cohen helped lead Missouri to a 39-19 overall record and an NCAA Regional appearance in 1996 as Jamieson's top assistant. Missouri tallied a 185-147 record with Cohen as an assistant. He first made a return trip to Missouri's campus in 2008 to do some facilities touring with then-MSU Director of Athletics Greg Byrne.
Jamieson, who has a 639-492-2 record at Missouri including 14 30-win seasons makes no excuses about the 18-32 record his team suffered through last year. The Tigers (17-18, 6-9 in SEC) barely scratched in the conference tournament in 2013 losing to Cohen's MSU squad in 17 innings on the first night.
"The message from the whole athletic department was, 'We really don't know what we're getting into (in the SEC). Let's do it together and then let's make adjustments'," Jamieson said last May to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We had a bad year. I don't care if it's the SEC, the Big 12 or the Missouri Valley. We need to get better."
However, it's clear Cohen watches the program he started his coaching career at and hopes Jamieson can turn it around soon.
"I'm a huge fan of Tim Jamieson because he has taken Missouri to heights in the last 10 years that I just never thought they could do," Cohen said.
Just not turn it around in Columbia, Mo., this weekend as Mississippi State makes it first trip to Taylor Stadium at Simmons Field.
In order to get its second series victory on the road in 2014, MSU is going to have to get better production from its offense, which ranks 10th or lower in nearly every statistical category.
For MSU (23-15, 7-8) those changes start at the top of the lineup with a pair of junior college transfers in outfielder Jake Vickerson and shortstop Seth Heck. Both players are likely to possibly see the leadoff position and Cohen said Thursday he remains confident in both juniors to be the table setter of MSU's offensive attack.
"I think we've gotten back to doing what we know works in preparation instead of just going up there hoping that last year will carry us through because last year doesn't have anything to do with getting your job done in the batters box in that at-bat," Cohen said.
Vickerson is hitting just .245 in SEC play while Heck is struggling at a .226 pace in league games. For MSU to focus on their running game and be able to cause pitchers problems later in games, both players realize they have to find a way to get to first base.
"I have to find a way to get on base and there's no sense sugar coating this," Vickerson said. "When I'm not getting on base and working counts and doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I feel like I've let my team down."
Vickerson says he's been working with Cohen and MSU assistant coach Nick Mingione on centering his backside power so the ball does float off the bat creating a lazy fly ball. He took batting practice Thursday with the mindset of trying to stay centered for smooth contact that creates the line drive top spin.
"When I dip my backside weight and reach for pitches, they tend to float on me and I have to make sure everything I'm doing creates that line drive or ground ball action," Vickerson said.
Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson have dumped the idea of Ross Mitchell in the Friday night role and have moved Trevor Fitts back to the spot allowing the left-hander Mitchell an extra day of rest for his Saturday start.
"It's something that we've really avoided doing at all costs and because of everything that led to our lack of depth on mound, we didn't see another choice," Cohen said. "I think he's better on a Saturday. Teams have different approaches on a Saturday than a Friday night."
One of the recruiting tools that Cohen started at Missouri and has tried to bring to every other stop on his path including MSU is the two-way player as a hitter and pitcher. In 2014, Missouri highlights one of the better two-way players in the midwest in senior Eric Anderson. Anderson was named SEC Player of the Week Monday after putting together one of the best weeks of his career, both at the plate and on the mound. On Friday night, he went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBIs, all coming on a game-winning three-run homer in the eighth inning at No. 15 Kentucky. On Sunday Anderson tossed 7.0 innings, holding the SEC's top offense to just three runs on nine hits while walking just one and striking out 10. He also had the game-winning hit with a two-out RBI single in the sixth inning of that game as he finished 3-for-5 with two RBI and a walk in that game.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.