John Cohen’s introduction to the public as Auburn’s athletic director on Tuesday was a mix of a blast to the past with an eye to the ever-changing landscape of college sports.
Cohen’s hire by Auburn President Dr. Chris Roberts as the Tiger’s 16th athletic director is old school because it’s rarer nowadays to see a former coach become an AD. Cohen was a successful baseball coach at as alma mater Mississippi State.
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Back in the day, it’d be normal to see a coach of a successful program become an athletic director, such as Pat Dye at Auburn and Tiger alum Vince Dooley at the University of Georgia. However, as college athletics have become more sophisticated, it’s more likely that athletic directors will work their way up the ranks as administrators rather than coaching.
“I think you can—when you’ve done it, you’ve sat in that particular chair, there’s a little bit more connective tissue,” Cohen said. “You really understand. You understand what it’s like for your team not to play well, and you go home and do not sleep; it’s different. I’ve worn the two hats, and I think there’s some value in that. I really believe that. In fact, other ADs who are friends of mine have reached out and said, ‘Hey, I’m having an issue connecting with this coach. What do you think?’ That happens quite frequently. I feel like I do have that club in my bag.
Still, Cohen’s attitude toward Name, Image, and Likeness shows a willingness to adapt that Roberts hopes will guide the department toward competing for national championships in every sport, especially football.
“Much like the space race in the 60s, we’ve got to be out front. We have to be aggressive, and it’s the way of the world,” Cohen said. “So, we’re going to jump in with both feet. Certainly, an incredible foundation has been laid at Auburn University. Very proud of that, and it makes this position even more appealing. It speaks to Auburn University’s passion to see what’s already been done in that space. So, I’m excited about jumping in there. And you know, locking shields with all those people who are involved with the NIL process at Auburn.”
Auburn athletes made 6.4 million dollars in Name, Image, and Likeness from July 1, 2021, to June 30, during the first year of the new rules allowing student-athletes to make money from their name, image, and likeness through advertising and other ventures, according to the university. The average deal was $7,800, and there were 824 transactions.
Cohen hopes to increase those numbers with help from Auburn’s NIL collective, On to Victory. He’s also aware that the landscape will continue to change.
“I do believe there should be guardrails,” Cohen said. “There aren’t as many as I would like, but that will not stop Auburn University from being aggressive in the space. From the conversations, I’ve already had. Very excited, again, to see the passion in that space that Auburn has.”
Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.