Eight days after his hiring was announced, John Cohen spoke to the media for the first time as the 16th athletics director in the history of Auburn University.
Cohen took the Auburn job after six years of serving as the athletics director at Mississippi State. Though it was an “emotional” time for Cohen as he left Starkville and his alma mater behind, the opportunity to lead a program with such tradition as Auburn was too much to pass up.
“Why? A big part of the why is the Auburn tradition, of which there is much,” Cohen said. “Why? My belief in the current coaches here at Auburn University. I think this is one of the great collection of coaches that exists in the entire country.”
Cohen spun the familiar “just Auburn being Auburn” phrase, often used with a negative connotation, to be something positive, highlighting the history of Auburn athletics.
“Athletes who forever changed the nature of their own sport — not just here, not just in the SEC, but nationally — like Bo, like The Big Hurt, like Sir Charles, like Rowdy, like Ruthie, like Suni,” Cohen said. “I can name a bunch more.”
In addition to Auburn’s current coaching lineup, Cohen mentioned Auburn’s history of famed coaches across all sports.
“How about Hall of Fame coaches? Shug Jordan, Pat Dye, Joel Eaves, Sonny Smith, Hal Baird — who I got to see the other day — Joe Ciampi, David Marsh, Ralph Spry, Susan Nunnelly, Tim Evans, and many, many more,” Cohen said. “We have future Hall of Fame coaches in this room right now, and I’m thrilled with that.”
Cohen was introduced by Auburn University president Dr. Chris Roberts, who cited the introduction of Cohen as an “exciting day in the life of Auburn athletics.”
“In looking for someone to serve the role here at Auburn University, given the importance of our program, we were looking for someone with previous experience as an athletics director, specifically someone with experience in a Power Five athletics director position,” Roberts said.
Success on the field was not all Roberts wanted in his hire, but rather a combination of success both in and out of competition.
“We were also looking for a person as an athletics director in all areas: athletically, academically, in terms of facilities enhancements, and in compliance,” Roberts said. “Lastly, we were looking for a candidate that came highly recommended as both a professional and a person.”
Cohen, in his first eight days on the job, has already laid out the goals he has for himself and for the Auburn athletic programs.
“What is my mission? First of all, it is to serve the Auburn Family and Dr. Chris Roberts,” Cohen said. “I want to ensure that every student-athlete has a positive and productive experience at Auburn University…My goal is to put Auburn in a position to win SEC championships and national championships.”
In the ever-expanding world of name, image and likeness deals in college athletics, Cohen aims to be aggressive on the NIL front, though he says the foundation has already been laid at Auburn.
“We’re going to jump in with both feet. Certainly an incredible foundation has been laid at Auburn University and I’m very proud of that. It makes this position even more appealing,” Cohen said. “It really speaks to the passion for Auburn University to see what’s already been done in that space. I’m excited about jumping in there and locking shields with all of those people who are involved with the NIL process at Auburn.”
Cohen inherits a unique situation, taking the Auburn job in the midst of an ongoing search for a new head football coach. Cohen, who hired two football coaches at Mississippi State, brought a list, 58 items in length, of what he goes through in the hiring process for a football program. Cohen expressed the importance of finding the right “fit” for Auburn.
“It starts with culture. It starts with X’s and O’s. And it starts with recruiting,” Cohen said. “Those three things have to be up front, but there’s a whole lot of other things that have to be answered before you get really deep into it.”
According to Cohen, the final decisions made in regard to athletics hires will be his, though he will welcome input from others.
“Certainly, Dr. Roberts made it clear that these decisions will be my own, but it takes a village,” Cohen said. “It takes a group of people sharing information and sharing knowledge. Quite frankly, I have been on the phone a lot because we have to make great decisions. That’s what I’m charged with doing.”
Cohen does not feel “pressure” as he prepares to make his first hires at Auburn. Instead, he sees an “opportunity” for a future coach on the Plains, just as he saw for himself.
“I just see opportunity, and Auburn is the land of opportunity,” Cohen said. “I think we have a great opportunity here and I think the future is really bright.”
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Matthew is a senior from Huntsville, Alabama, majoring in journalism. He started with The Plainsman in fall 2021.