Columns & Blogs

Mercer in for big change after Pope

So exactly why is this Bobby Pope’s final day as Mercer’s athletics director?

That’s a question a lot of us are pondering, as Pope cleans out his office and “retires” after more than 30 years with an association at Mercer, the past 21 as the AD.

Everything seems clean. The president of the university had this master plan, moving in the younger man while allowing the dean of athletics directors in the A-Sun to have a cushy job raising money.

But the only hitch in that plan was Pope’s desire to leave altogether.

Pope deserved the right to decide when he was going to walk out the door. He has done enough for this community and Mercer to walk out on his own terms. And it doesn’t seem that’s what’s happening today.

Can Pope still do his duties as athletics director? Yes. Is he still healthy enough to do the job, even in his early 60s? Yes.

Remember when Michael Adams ran Vince Dooley out of the Butts-Mehre Building a few years ago? Well, it seemed that way at least. Dooley led a tremendously successful program, but because he was 72 years old Adams decided it was time for Dooley to go.

This deal at Mercer smells like the same thing. Why make a change if it’s not needed? If it isn’t broke, why try to fix it?

Pope would probably be the first to admit he hasn’t been the perfect administrator, but he has always done what’s best for Mercer. He loved the University. It was a part of him.

For many of us, Bobby Pope is Mercer. Not Bill Underwood. Not Jim Cole. But Bobby Pope.

Underwood, the president at Mercer, wanted Cole to be the AD, and that’s why he made the change that takes effect Thursday. What can Cole bring to the table that Pope doesn’t? I mean, heck, everybody knows Bobby, and Bobby knows everybody.

Perhaps Cole will be the best AD in the country. Maybe he’ll be a refreshing change that will invigorate the staff and coaches. But is he really ready for this challenge?

Cole has been a politician. He was a state representative who was all set to be the Secretary of State — at least until Underwood stepped in and offered him Pope’s job.

Is that what Mercer needs as the athletics director? A politician?

Cole has the gig, so he needs all of us to lend our support in hopes he does well and is a good fit in this position. Mercer needs good leadership and hopefully an AD that won’t be interfered with from a president that obviously speaks loudly and carries a big stick.

But it’s still difficult to understand why Pope is walking out of the University Center today. With his decision to turn down Underwood’s offer to run the fund-raising foundation, Pope is, in fact, walking out on his terms.

Like many in this area, I’m fortunate enough to call Pope a friend. He has been a huge help to me since I came to Macon 14 years ago. So I’m partial, and I know he’s good at what he’s done for so long.

Bobby Pope is Middle Georgia sports. He was on TV years ago as a sports anchor. He’s still on the radio in the fall. And he was, yes was, the face of Mercer athletics.

That all changes after today. It’s a shame, but something tells me Pope is going to be the man smiling after all of this.

After all, he is Bobby Pope.

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