John Cohen knows legends. He replaced one. He grew up around another.
Mississippi State's baseball coach was born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Ala. This was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a Bama fan might see an icon in a houndstooth hat at any given moment.
“Oh my, we used to see Bear Bryant all the time,” Cohen said. “You'd see him in the parking lot, or somewhere around town, and it was always so special.
“I went to high school with his granddaughter. When he would come to one of her games, it was like E.F. Hutton. The whole place stopped.”
Cohen never played for the Bear. He never played for Bama baseball. Mississippi State plucked the 5-foot-10, 165-pound outfielder out of the Tide's back yard.
The former “fist through the table” Tide fan is all Bulldog now. Cohen went to play for a legendary program run by a legendary coach, Ron Polk. He played for MSU in the 1990 College World Series, at Rosenblatt Stadium.
And now he's back in Omaha, as the head coach, carving out his own legend. Cohen's Bulldogs will play for the national title starting Monday night, the school's first national title in any sport.
They're most famous for baseball. Polk is the reason. Cohen is on the verge of taking the legacy to its highest level.
This event comes with a twist. If Polk had his way, Cohen wouldn't be here.
Polk brought Mississippi State to the CWS eight times. He won 1,373 games. He's the Southeastern Conference's all-time leader in coaching victories.
“He's one of the grandfathers of college baseball,” Cohen said. “He and (former LSU coach) Skip Bertman created SEC baseball.”
When Polk's second stint at MSU ended in 2008, he thought he should be able to pick his successor. That wasn't Cohen, then a successful head coach at Kentucky. Polk's pick was longtime assistant Tommy Raffo.