By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
The Holly Pond football program is receiving a special package from the Red Cross — but it isn’t filled with the usual supplies, such as food or hygiene products. Instead, this particular parcel is fully equipped with a championship-caliber coach — Mike Bates.
Five years since he last stepped foot on a high school football field, the current Cullman Red Cross executive director and former Cullman High coach will make his return to the sidelines this fall as the Broncos’ head honcho. Pending approval at next Thursday’s Cullman County Board of Education meeting, Bates will officially replace Nate Ayers, who resigned in late April after three up-and-down seasons at his alma mater.
Bates has been out of the game for awhile now, but he made it clear Holly Pond was where he wanted to rekindle his passion for coaching.
“Not everybody gets a chance to do what they want to do,” the new hire said. “They needed a coach, and I wanted to do it one more time, so this seemed like the perfect marriage.”
Since getting his feet wet as the main man at Marion County from 1981-86, Bates has made stops at six other schools — Lawrence County (1987), Curry (1989-92), Cullman (1993-2000), Bob Jones (2001-03) and St. Paul’s (2007-08) — including his latest destination.
Over 24 seasons, he’s put together a 150-110 record and made the playoffs 10 times, where he holds a 10-9 clip. Bates has advanced past the second round once, in 2007, when he led a St. Paul’s squad featuring current Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to a 14-1 record and Class 5A state title.
“He’s been to several different places, he’s been successful everywhere he’s gone and he’s won a state championship,” Green and White athletic director Steve Miller said. “Anytime you bring somebody in with those type of credentials, it adds some credibility to what you’re doing.”
Bates’ 10 postseason appearances is one more than Holly Pond can tout in its 50-year history. After winning four straight games to clinch a playoff berth, the 2011 Broncos made an early exit versus then-No. 8 Lauderdale County, which kept the school winless in all nine attempts.
But that’s part of the past, which Bates said he’d rather not acknowledge during his first meeting with Holly Pond’s players on Wednesday.
“I told them we were going to try to make our football team the best it can be starting yesterday,” he said. “Things that happened in the past, we’re not interested in that. We’re going to try to be positive moving forward.”
The upcoming campaign will be Bates’ first at a school classified lower than 4A since 1986. Just because it’s been 27 years, though, doesn’t mean he’s forgotten the three basic components he believes are vital to fielding a successful team at this level.
“It’s a lot about kids, and it’s a lot about blocking and tackling,” Bates said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re at St. Paul’s or if you’re at Holly Pond, it’s still coaching. It’s going to be my job to set the tone, and I want to be positive.
“My goal is to go out there, be competitive in every game and give us a chance to win all of them. Sometimes it happens quicker than you think and sometimes it takes awhile. Every situation is unique.”
Bates, who’s spent plenty of time in Holly Pond visiting his grandchildren, said one of the main reasons he’s excited about the new opportunity is the thought of being apart of a community he feels is full of “really good folks.”
“Being out there and being around them, they’re just real people, and I’m honored that they asked me,” he said. “I’ve had other opportunities, and I’ve not taken any of them. I’m at Holly Pond because that’s where I want to be.”
How long Bates plans to stay with the Green and White, however, is currently up in the air. For now, he’ll remain retired, so his job as head football coach will be treated as a supplemental position.
“I told the players fortunately for them and the community that I wasn’t going to play in a single game,” he said with a laugh. “But as long as I feel good and as long as I’m making a difference, I’m going to do it. The good Lord only knows how long that could be. I can see myself down there for a long time.”
Bates said he has no immediate plans to leave the Cullman Red Cross. As of Thursday, he was still in the process of discussing his options with the local agency.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.