It seems that the debacle caused by outgoing coach Ron Polk over Mississippi State's selection of former UK baseball coach John Cohen is not being well received by the MSU faithful nor the local media in Mississippi, and that is good.
Despite the respect and admiration Polk had earned over almost 30 years as the MSU baseball coach, very few people in and around the program seem to be buying into Polk's tirade at incoming MSU Athletics Director Greg Byrne. John Clay has a post detailing a response from Rick Cleveland of the Clarion-Ledger, long-time MSU columnist and self-confessed fan of Polk. Cleveland correctly takes Polk to task for his outrageous comments, calling them " ... wrong, wrong, wrong."
Honestly, I had never heard of Polk before the other day. Baseball might as well be a brand-new sport to the Big Blue Nation, as Wildcat baseball has had so few followers around here that it could have just been invented this decade instead of sometime in he 1800's. But because of Cohen's outstanding work with the absolutely downtrodden baseball program at Kentucky, we now know it is possible to create a winner here in the Bluegrass, and it seems to me that Mitch Barnhart is determined to do just that. The fact that fans are starting to come around is a sign something good is happening to the UK baseball program, something we all hope can be continued.
For Cohen's part, there was simply no amount of money that could have kept him at Kentucky, and when that happens, you just have to stand aside and congratulate the man. Reading this press conference transcript convinced me that nothing Barnhart could have offered him would have enticed him to stay, very much as nothing TAMU could have offered Billy Gillispie would have enticed him to stay when UK came calling. Coaches have dream jobs, and when a dream job is offered, you take it 100% of the time unless your name is Billy Donovan.
Cohen and Byrne offered very classy remarks in the press conference, very complimentary to Kentucky and Mitch Barnhart. As much as it hurts, when a national collegiate baseball powerhouse like Mississippi State hires your coach away from you, you know your AD has been getting the job done. The fact that Barhart put up such a tough fight against impossible odds is impressive in itself, and I have absolutely no criticism of his handling of this situation. It was simply a battle he could not have won.
It always hurts to lose a great coach, and Kentucky has lost a few in my lifetime. It is never fun, always a setback, and invariably requires rebuilding the culture. I truly hope Coach Henderson is up to the task, but if he isn't, I'm sure that Mitch Barnhart is capable of finding someone who is. If we were willing to pay Cohen the big bucks to stay, we are capable of luring another great coach to Lexington. Perhaps we won't have to. We'll see.
Fortunately for Cohen, it seems that the fans of Mississippi State are firmly behind Byrne and his hire. If you read the comments to these various articles, you will be hard pressed to find anyone who agrees with Polk. That is good news, and I think Ron Polk will just have to take his ball and go home. Nobody wants to play with a bully, even a fiercely loyal one like Polk. Bad behavior in the name of loyalty is still bad behavior, and make no mistake, Polk is behaving like a 6-year old child who's mother refused to buy him a candy bar.
UPDATE: Already there is one casualty in UK's 2008 class to the departure of Cohen. Expect more.