LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen could’ve seen the question coming as he spoke Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium, a return to the Kentucky baseball grounds where he coached four seasons.
Is Kentucky coach Nick Mingione on the shortlist of candidates as Mississippi State conducts an offseason search to find a new man to lead the program?
“Yeah, we’re not gonna talk about any of our coaching stuff,” Cohen said. “Today is really about Kentucky playing Mississippi State. I’m not trying to avoid your question, but we’re in the background stages of doing our search right now. We’re gonna come up with an incredible coach to run this program. I’ll tell you what, Kentucky has a big-time baseball coach in Nick Mingione.”
It was an expected response from Cohen, who has deep ties with Mingione. The Kentucky coach worked under Cohen at UK in 2006 and 2007, and then Cohen brought Mingione to Starkville, Miss., when he accepted the Bulldogs job. Mingione was an assistant at MSU for eight seasons under Cohen, who was named athletic director in November 2016.
The ties between Kentucky and baseball go even deeper, as former Kentucky coach Gary Henderson is leading the Mississippi State program this season following the early-season resignation of Andy Cannizaro. Henderson is likely serving in an interim role, and Mingione hasn’t shied away from Mississippi State’s expected interest in him.
“You know what, that’s to be expected — my name, right?” Mingione said at the beginning of the season when his name had already been floated for the job. “I spent over a decade with Coach [John] Cohen, like right? That’s like the obvious, right? Why wouldn’t they say my name?”
Mississippi State is a fitting foe for Kentucky to host in its final regular season series at Cliff Hagan Stadium. It brings Cohen and Henderson back to the program they once led, and both will join Mingione and former UK coaches to throw out the first pitch Sunday afternoon.
The Wildcats will move into a new $49 million stadium in 2019. While the memories will be flowing this weekend at Cliff Hagan Stadium, a new ballpark had long been needed.
“When [recruits] would leave here in previous years and go to some southern schools, the facilities would be different in comparison,” Cohen said. “Now, when you look at a facility like this, very comparable to the rest of the Southeastern Conference. I know Mitch Barnhart has been just pushing, and pushing and pushing. I know that he had to overcome some obstacles to get this done, but nobody fights for his coaches and student-athletes like Mitch Barnhart.”
And now Barnhart’s next objective for the Kentucky baseball program will be to keep Mingione in place, ready to lead the Wildcats into a new era.
“He’s a great motivator, he’s a great teacher, he’s a great recruiter,” Cohen said of Mingione. “The sky’s the limit for this program with Nick Mingione at the helm.”