November 30, 2017 11:42:01 PM
STARKVILLE -- The best thing that ever happened to John Cohen was standing in the back of the room and saying nothing.
This experience came in the winter of following the 2008 football season, when Mississippi State was looking for a new football coach and Cohen was just a few months into his tenure as MSU's baseball coach. MSU's athletic director at the time, Greg Byrne, wanted his help for one reason: Cohen was the only coach he had hired. Byrne wanted Cohen around to help the candidates better understand the process ahead of them.
Cohen did his part while taking advantage of the opportunity.
"I was just a stupid baseball coach," Cohen said. "I stood in the back of the room, didn't open my mouth and took notes."
Those notes turned into the how-to guide.
Now MSU's Director of Athletics, Cohen used those notes to hire Joe Moorhead as the school's 33rd head football coach. After the introductory press conference Thursday morning, Cohen opened on the process that got MSU a new head coach in all of 48 hours.
It helped that he got a head start on the whole thing.
MSU President Mark E. Keenum said Cohen approached him several weeks ago about the possibility of Dan Mullen leaving and wanted to begin quietly collecting information on candidates. Cohen said over the next 60 days, he called over 120 people ranging from NFL general managers and scouts to ESPN's college football team and even a conversation with the man hurt by Moorhead's hiring: Penn State coach James Franklin.
That being the case, Cohen was halfway to a hire when Mullen called him Sunday morning to tell him he was accepting the Florida job. Cohen says the two, "had a really good conversation," and credited Mullen for his focus on the well-being of the players in the immediate aftermath; Cohen said Mullen brought up the upcoming final exams. Cohen also said Mullen was concerned for the well-being of the future of the program, but Cohen said the two didn't talk about that much; Cohen didn't need to.
In the preliminary conversations, Cohen was amazed at how often Moorhead's name came up. As those conversations changed from gathering candidates to zeroing in on Moorhead, Cohen knew what he was trying to find.
"What you're really searching for, in my opinion, is you want somebody to say something bad," Cohen said. "Every time I start those conversations I say, 'Please, don't hold back, if there's a skeleton in the closet I want to know about it. Tell me something bad.' I could not get anybody to say something bad about Joe Moorhead, and that's pretty remarkable because I can tell you this: it wouldn't take two minutes to find somebody to say something bad about John Cohen."
Then came the more serious conversations. Cohen said he had eight face-to-face conversations with candidates about the job, a number that expand to 14 when including phone conversations. Cohen had Deputy Athletic Director/CFO Jared Benko and Deputy Athletic Director/Development Bo Hemphill with him for his interviews with Moorhead, a process the latter enjoyed.
"The cool thing is I'm a baseball guy, so we did talk a lot about baseball," Moorhead said. "The expeditious nature, the attention to detail and there was never any gray area: anything he said was going to happen. They were upfront and honest, and that was something I really appreciated."
Clearly the MSU party enjoyed the event, as well. Moorhead met for a second interview Tuesday early evening that ended with an in-person job offer. The news of Moorhead's hire broke a matter of hours later.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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