A Calmer Ron Polk Talks

After venting his frustration and hurt to media nation-wide, a calmer Ron Polk talks about the hiring of John Cohen as the new Mississippi State baseball coach.

Now that you've had time to think about all of this what are your thoughts?
"I am a Mississippi State guy all the way. This will work out eventually. I just have to get over it. I don't feel this way for me totally, it's for my coaches. Can you imagine me having to watch my coaches - Tommy (Raffo), Russ (McNickle), Wade (Hedges) and Greg (Drye) - this week packing up their offices and having to leave, turn their keys in?

"I said to myself you can almost see tears in their eyes, you can see their wives crying. And what did they do wrong? What did they do wrong?

"Tommy has been here 19 years - an All-American player here and a coach here with Pat (McMahon) and me. We've gone to post-season play for 21 straight years, except for this year, but I'm not going to get into the injuries. He's been part of championships. He was groomed by me, mentored by me and Pat. He could have had opportunities to go elsewhere, but this is his home, this is his school where he graduated from. He even met his wife Paula here.

"Then a guy (Greg Byrne) comes in who has only been here one and a half years who didn't have an athletic director background and makes the hire. But Greg was consistent - he did a nation-wise search, he waited until the end of the season, and he wanted to make sure it was done right. My hope and my prayers were always that he would say at the end that he did a nation-wide search and a found the guy right here at Mississippi State - Tommy Raffo. I was hoping he would say, 'I was very impressed with Tommy Raffo and I recommend him.'

"The same thing happened in Georgia. I stayed there two years. And (current Georgia head baseball coach) Dave Perno was with me those two years. I went to (Georgia AD) Vince Dooley and told him that his man was right here. He said, 'I have to do the nation-wide search.' And he did. He brought a couple (of potential coaches) in, but it didn't work out. So, he finally said because of my recommendation he was going to hire Perno despite Dave being so young. Since then, Dave has been to the College World Series three times.

"When John Cohen left Kentucky, the head assistant coach got hired immediately. Larry Hayes, my good friend from Texas Tech, just retired and his assistant coach got hired. I asked him how that happened. He said he went in and told the AD the assistant coach is ready. He told him, 'ok, he's been here long enough so he's it.'

"We had people call, fax and email (in support of Tommy), maybe too many. Many of the (current) players went in and their parents emailed. So, I thought it might happened. Then, Buck Showalter told me he had been contacted. Pat Casey had also been contacted. Steve Smith had been contacted. But Greg told me he was going to do (the nation-wide search).

"Then, I heard that John (Cohen) was a strong candidate and that he was interested. So, I called John and told him to please, please don't take it. I told him, 'you have a job that pays you well. It may be colder than it is here at Mississippi State. And it may not have as many people in the stands. But please, please, as your former coach and your friend, do not take your job.' I told him, 'I understand and you understand that if you don't take it someone else might. But here's the problem, if you come here it's going to hurt Tommy bad. And he probably won't want to stay, as the other coaches won't due to their loyalty to Tommy. So, four coaches are out of a job.'

"I wanted Tommy to have the job partly due to wanting to help him with alumni relations, the sky suite plan, alumni baseball weekend. Not to help him on the field. I was going to build my own office at my own expense next door to the current baseball offices. Although I wouldn't be around much due to all the traveling I will do, it would be a place where I could put all my stuff on the walls, etc. I told John (if he's hired) that's probably not going to happen.

"I received a call from Tommy while I was in Athens and I could tell he was (feeling) down. He said he had talked to Greg Byrne and he had indicated that they were going in a different direction. I asked him if it was John, and Tommy said he didn't say.

"Then, I was talking to Steve Smith, one of our former coaches, he said he was being texted by one of our former managers, Bo McKinnis, who is an agent now, saying that Gary Henderson is going to be announced as the new baseball coach at Kentucky. I knew then.

"I called John on his cell phone, even though I knew it was after the fact, and told him, 'I still love you, but I don't like what you did.' I say that same thing to my players often. If they miss a class, are late for practice, I say that to them, but I still love them. It's like arguing with an umpire, the next day it's over with. That's why I think this is going to solve itself eventually once I get past the hurt. It's all going to work out. I just have to have some time.

"So, then I get the calls from the press. And I lashed out at Greg. A lot of people who called, who are in coaching circles, told me the longer it lasts, the less likely it's going to happen. I got to thinking if it's not going to happen, surely Greg would call me and bring Tommy in in March, April, or May and tell him they are going in a different direction. He interviewed Tommy for two and a half hours and I'm sure he was impressed with him, as anybody is. But he didn't hire Tommy, so now he's out of a job."

I guess it's like you see John and Tommy as sons of yours. One son went off and became a successful head coach while the other son stayed with you for 19 years.
"Yes. If I had known then what I know now, I would have encouraged Tommy to go off and be a head coach somewhere and have success and be a candidate."

Don't you think you pushed Greg Byrne too hard trying to get the job for Tommy?
"Well, we had a lot of people call to make sure it happened. That was the thing. It would have been easy for (Greg) to say nobody called, nobody emailed, the players didn't go in and visit. Then, all of sudden Tommy doesn't get the job, and Greg says he didn't hear enough good things from enough people. I didn't know what the happy median was."

Do you feel that you overreacted when you talked to the media right after John was hired?
"Yeah, I did. I'm not going to take my name off the stadium. The will, I don't know, but it's not like I'm willing 50 million dollars. But I'm hurt, I'm hurting bad for my coaches.

"Loyalty is very important to me. Unfortunately, I'm too loyal. I'm loyal to a fault with the college baseball coaches, kids and programs in this country. And because of that, I fought for them, one of the few that did. I'm loyal to Mississippi State. Our kids have never done anything wrong, other than a few mischievous things. Our academic standards are much higher than others. We had good kids. We won some games, lost some games in a tough league."

What do you think of John Cohen as a coach?
"John Cohen is a great coach. He is a good person. He will do a good job. The players will have to make an adjustment because it's a different style of coaching, but it will be fun for them."

If you can get past the hurt you feel about Tommy not being hired, can you understand why Greg wanted to hire a coach like John Cohen, a guy who has been a successful head coach at two different programs, one of which is in the SEC?
"I'm kind of happy that he hired someone in our family rather than someone outside of the family. But I was hoping Greg, who has been here for just a year and a half and had never been an AD, would trust a guy who has been here 31 years."

What are your immediate plans?
"Helping my coaches find other jobs is my first responsibility.

"I have had some calls from various coaches asking me if I am still interested in coaching. I told him, 'I don't know. I don't want to be a head coach anywhere in the NCAA because I'll have to deal with the quotas.' I may be willing to be a volunteer coach because I don't need the money. I'll keep my home here and my land in Browning Creek, maybe go somewhere for a year or two, help someone as a volunteer coach. It's not to slap in the face of Mississippi State, it's more to give me something to do and get over this hurt."

Any last words?
"Tell your readers this - when I went to Georgia (as their head coach), I kept my home here, I kept my land here. I told Vince Dooley when I came there to help them that I would be there three to five year then I was coming back home to Starkville. This is home and it will always be my home. John Cohen is one of former boys. I like him like a son, just like I like Tommy like a son.

"Will I support John Cohen? Sure I will. It's just a matter of getting through this hurt that I feel. It will pass in due time. And I will visit with John in due time. I just have to decide if I'm going to go off and be a volunteer coach somewhere. I'm going to be 65 years old, so I won't be gone for long. I'll come back here because it's my home."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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