Ross Bjork Credit: University of Mississippi

This was the early 1990s at the University of Missouri. Present Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork was the assistant atheltic director for development. Just named Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen was an assistant baseball coach.

Their offices were located in the same hallway.

“You could tell Ross was on a fast track,” Cohen said. “He was going places.”

“John was a sharp, charismatic guy,” Bjork said. “I am not surprised at his success.”

The two have kept up with each other through the years as their careers have taken divergent courses that have led them to being the athletic directors at arch-rival universities 90 miles apart in north Mississippi.

When Bjork had an opening for a baseball coach at Western Kentucky, Cohen was one of the people he talked to about possible candidates.

Bjork says he had no idea Cohen had career aspirations of moving from baseball into the athletic administration.

“It’s good to see him get that opportunity in the Southeastern Conference,” Bjork said.

(Former bosses are bullish on Cohen)

Cohen will have connections throughout the Southeastern Conference, including right at the top.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was the commissioner of the Southland Conference when Southland Conference member Northwestern (La.) State had a young coach named John Cohen.

Cohen was at Northwestern State four seasons, winning two league titles before moving on to first Florida, then Kentucky and finally MSU.

Sankey was watching the MSU press conference to announce Cohen’s hiring on the computer in his office in Birmingham.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey

“People saw the real John Cohen without his cap and uniform and sunglasses on,” Sankey said. “You saw an intelligent, thoughtful person, secure in his ability.”

Sankey said it has been his experience coaching baseball often translates well to performing the duties of an athletic director.

“Nearly every successful baseball coach I’ve ever been around has administrative skills and knows how to relate to people,” Sankey said. “With the 11.7 scholarship limit in baseball, the coach better have that kind of ability.”

Sankey said he will be in Starkville Saturday for State’s game with Texas A & M.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.