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Former SEC Coach Blasts School's AD As Being "Utterly Cruel"

Jackson, Miss. — Former Mississippi State coach Ron Polk blasted the school's new athletic director Friday as "utterly cruel" for hiring Kentucky's John Cohen and vowed to remove his name from the stadium and the school from his will.

Polk campaigned for assistant coach Tommy Raffo, a former player who was college teammates with Cohen, since he announced his retirement in March. The outspoken 64-year-old said he warned new athletic director Greg Byrne of the consequences if he did not promote Raffo.

"Now he's got me on the war path and all I can do is hurt him," Polk said of Byrne in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Athens, Ga., where he is watching Georgia play North Carolina State in an NCAA super regional. "I'm going to do everything I can to make his life miserable."

The 41-year-old Cohen will be introduced Saturday at news conferences in Starkville and Jackson. He resigned from his job at Kentucky on Friday morning. Wildcats athletic director Mitch Barnhart immediately promoted associate head coach Gary Henderson.

Mississippi State's incoming athletic director won't replace Larry Templeton until July. But interim president Vance Watson charged Byrne with hiring a new baseball coach since he would have to live with the decision far longer than Templeton.

Byrne, 36, is the son of Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne. He was the associate athletic director for external affairs at Mississippi State for two years before being promoted by president Robert Foglesong.

After Foglesong abruptly resigned this spring, many speculated there would be a power struggle between supporters of Byrne and Templeton, whose 20-year tenure as athletic director ended when Foglesong forced him out. But Byrne's hiring had already been approved by the state's College Board and he will take over the department in July.

Cohen and Byrne are familiar with each other from their days together at Florida where Cohen was an assistant coach. Byrne was traveling home from Lexington, Ky., on Friday and a spokesman said he would not be available for comment. Cohen did not return messages left on his cell phone.

Polk, 64, said he was disappointed that Cohen went against his wishes, but put the blame on Byrne.

"Now our new athletic director throws me under the bus, slaps me in the face, punches me in the stomach," Polk "Technically, he did the same thing with Tommy Raffo ... and all our coaches, all our signees, returning players and their parents who wanted Tommy all the way."

In addition to taking his name off the stadium, Polk said he will personally take down the banners that display his name and number. He also will use his influence to scuttle a number of support programs, such as the foster parent program and the Dugout Club.

And he's taking Mississippi State athletics out of his will.

"That's coming out," Polk said. "I'm going to go up to Tupelo and design the first 'Until Greg Byrne is Gone' clause."

If Byrne resigns or is fired at some point, Polk said the school is welcome to return his name to the stadium and can expect his support again. Polk has told Cohen he won't have his support until then. He believes Cohen will eventually build a winner, but it will take longer with no smooth transition.

"The only reason why I'm supporting Tommy is John's got a job," Polk said. "He's got a job. Tommy doesn't got a job. John got a break."


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