Rep. Jim Cole to become Mercer athletics director

mlough@macon.comJanuary 6, 2010 

The end of a long era at Mercer and a fairly short one in state government are expected to be announced at a news conference this afternoon at the school.

Mercer sent out an e-mail release just after 5 p.m. Tuesday that it would have “new administrative appointments in the Department of Athletics.

“News conference participants will include Mercer President William D. Underwood, Director of Athletics Bobby Pope and Mercer Athletic Foundation Executive Director Jim Cole.”

The Telegraph has learned the school will announce that Pope and Cole will trade positions this summer, with Pope taking a spot in the Mercer Athletic Foundation and Cole becoming the school’s athletics director. Calls to the cell phones of Pope and Cole shortly after the release was sent out were unreturned.

The move was announced Tuesday afternoon in an athletics department staff meeting.

The expected announcement will have a major impact in state government.

Cole, a Republican state representative from Forsyth, confirmed last week that he would accept Gov. Sonny Perdue’s offer to be interim secretary of state, and said that he planned to run for that office’s full-term later this year.

But Monday, he said in an e-mail that a weekend of re-evaluation led him to pull his name from consideration, and he cited opportunities at Mercer as a main reason.

Pope has been involved with Mercer since 1970 and employed by the school since about 1980. He is in his 19th year as athletics director. Pope succeeded Bill Bibb, who was the athletics director from 1980-89 and head men’s basketball coach from 1974-89 and was commissioner of the Atlantic Sun Conference — based in Macon — from 1991-2006.

Cole, 38, is a Mercer alum, attending on an academic and athletic scholarship. He played baseball as a pitcher at Mercer, and was chosen by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 27th round of the 1993 baseball draft, but suffered a career-ending injury.

While still holding a position as a state representative, he joined the athletics department in 2008 as senior associate athletics director for external affairs and executive director of the MAF.

In the senior associate athletics director position, Cole replaced Jay Stroman, who left for a job at Young Harris College in 2008.

A year ago, he was named senior administration floor leader of the House of Representatives.

In the week since the announcement about him taking over as secretary of state, he had a change of heart that includes leaving politics, for at least several years.

“Over the last several months, I have been exploring many different opportunities at Mercer University that would afford me more time with my young children and at the same time provide exciting career opportunities,” he wrote. “We had planned to announce after the legislative session that I would not seek re-election in order to take one of these opportunities at Mercer.”

The secretary of state position initially proved too hard to pass up, until further reflection with his family.

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