What is new Auburn athletics director John Cohen looking for in search for a new football coach?
AUBURN — New Auburn athletics director John Cohen was introduced for the first time in his new role Tuesday morning. He's the 16th athletics director in the university's history and comes to the Plains after spending 14 years at Mississippi State.
Cohen, a former Mississippi State baseball player from 1987-90, returned to the Bulldogs to be their coach in 2009, spending eight years with the program and finishing his tenure with a trip to the NCAA super regional round. He was then given the title of associate athletics director in 2016 before getting promoted to the top spot in the athletics department later that same year, a position he held until Oct. 31, when he resigned and joined Auburn.
"So, right into this. What is my purpose? What are my goals? What's my mission? First of all, it's to serve the Auburn family and (AU president) Dr. Chris Roberts," Cohen said Tuesday. "That's issue No. 1. I want to ensure that every student-athlete has a positive and productive experience at Auburn University. ...
"My goal is to put Auburn in position, as it has always done, put Auburn in position to win SEC championships and national championships. My goal is to relentlessly promote this wonderful university."
The first big test for Cohen is to hire a football coach. Bryan Harsin, who was fired the same day Cohen was hired, spent less than two seasons on the Plains, finishing his troubled tenure with a 9-12 overall record and a 4-9 mark in conference play.
The 56-year-old Cohen is best known for hiring Chris Lemonis in 2019 to coach the MSU baseball team. Lemonis led the Bulldogs to the College World Series, which they won to become the first team sport in Mississippi State history to win a national title.
Cohen also made two football hires in his time in Starkville. The first was Joe Moorehead, who only coached for two seasons before resigning after it was revealed a tutor was completing classwork for players on the team. The other was Mike Leach from Washington State, who is 17-16 through his first 33 games with the Bulldogs.
Asked about the process of looking for a head coach, Cohen held up a piece of paper and explained he's written down a list of things to do for the search. He said it's been consuming a large chunk of his time, as it should, according to his own admission.
"I have 58 things on this piece of paper as we go through this process looking for a new head football coach," Cohen said. "It starts with culture. It starts with X's and O's and it starts with recruiting. Those three things have to be up front, but there's a whole lot of other things that have to get answered before you get really deep into it."
Something Cohen can pitch to coaching candidates is Auburn's NIL collective, On To Victory, which was started earlier this year and has advertisements played during various sporting events at the university. The On To Victory logo is also on the backdrop at Auburn athletics press conferences.
"When I became the athletics director at Mississippi State University, I would have never guessed that we would be where we are today in the landscape of name, image and likeness," he said. "But certainly, now that it is started, much like the space race in the '60s, now that is started, we've got to be out front.
"We have to be aggressive. It's the way of the world. We're going to jump in with both feet. Certainly, an incredible foundation (that) has been laid at Auburn University ... makes this position even more appealing. And it really speaks to the passion for Auburn University to see what's already been done in that space."
Richard Silva is the Auburn beat reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rich_silva18.