STARKVILLE — When trying to sell the accomplishments of an athletic director, one of the “go-to” bullet points is general excellence.
If a team is going to suit up and play, the people around it want to associate with a winner.
Mississippi State praised one of its own Monday even as John Cohen was walking out the door to Auburn.
“A total of five Bulldog programs have turned in program-best seasons” under Cohen, the news release said.
That’s nice, but this isn’t about non-revenue sports.
Any AD hire in the Southeastern Conference is about football.
Auburn has been generally excellent at football at certain dots on the timeline. When the Tigers have achieved — a national championship in 2010; SEC championships in 2004, 2010 and 2013 — they’ve achieved at a higher level than the school Cohen is leaving or its in-state rival.
Those dots on the timeline are becoming more spaced.
Auburn drove home the football point by firing coach Bryan Harsin within minutes of hiring Cohen.
If that was Cohen’s decision, it was the quickest evaluation of facts of all time.
Speaking of decisions, Auburn boosters have long had a reputation for inserting themselves into important ones.
One of the news cycle’s most interesting tweets has been that of Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger, who was told Cohen was given “assurances that he’ll operate his own athletic department.”
That may be easier promised than delivered.
Cohen will at least be the face of a coaching search that could have Mississippi ties all over it when names like Lane Kiffin, Hugh Freeze, Deion Sanders and maybe even Dan Mullen start popping up.
When you start raising money for coaching salaries and encouraging donations to NIL collectives, that booster involvement is a plus.
Cohen hired two football coaches during his time at Mississippi State.
The first was Joe Moorhead, whom he fired before hiring Mike Leach, who has had some big wins but is 16-16 in 32 games at Mississippi State and 9-14 in conference play.
Leach will be either better or worse late Saturday night after struggling Auburn and new AD John Cohen visit Davis Wade Stadium.
Football will be important also for Cohen’s MSU successor. There are a handful of sitting Group of Five ADs with MSU connections.
The successful candidate will be tasked with getting football to win at a higher level more consistently. If he reaches that level, those goalposts will move, and he’ll be asked to achieve more.
The candidate will want to fill up Davis Wade, something that didn’t happen in either of MSU’s impressive blowout wins against Texas A&M and Arkansas earlier this month.
Baseball is important, too, but it’s more about supporting the brand that’s been established without screwing it up. Cohen was a big part of that brand.
Whoever becomes the next Auburn football coach will be attached at the hip to Cohen. They will be branded as the turnaround team for the Tigers in their quest to keep from being overshadowed by Nick Saban, their in-state rival.
There’s more weight in John Cohen’s checkbook today — and on his shoulders, too.
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