Born January 25, 1931, in Cullowhee, North Carolina AA, Campbell College, 1956; BS, Western Carolina University, 1958 Campbell College Varsity Baseball and Basketball Campbell College: Physical Education Instructor, 1962-1971; Dean of Men, 1971-1975; Dean of Students then Director of Alumni, 1975-1978
The first soccer match Jim Cole ever saw was one that he coached. That’s how the winningest coach in Campbell University history describes his beginnings in the sport. He must have been a quick learner. Jim “Catfish” Cole led the Campbell Camels to three NAIA National Tournament appearances in his 13 years as a head coach and a 138-48-7 record for a .733 winning percentage. For 13 years the only soccer coach Campbell ever had led his club to five District and three Area championships. Not bad, for someone who had absolutely no background in the game.
“Coach Fred McCall was the athletic director at the time, and I was an assistant basketball coach under him, and he asked me to coach the soccer team when the program was started in 1963,” said Cole. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything about soccer,’ and he said, ‘Well, get a book.’ So I did.”
The good-natured native of Cullowhee in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina was able to attract players from the talent-rich northeast. With that nucleus, Cole built a team that won the NAIA District 29 and Area V championship in both 1969 and 1970, then went on to fifth and third place showings, respectively, at the national tournament. Those teams posted identical 16-2-1 records, while the 1971 squad went 14-1-1 and took a third-consecutive District title. In his last five years at the helm of the Camel program, Cole led his teams to no fewer than 11 wins per year. His 1975 team finished sixth nationally.
Cole helped lay the foundation for the Campbell program virtually from nothing. “It just took hard work,” recalled Cole, who was 33 years old and a Korean War veteran when he took the whistle as the institution’s first soccer coach. “The first team that I had, only two players had ever played soccer at all in their lives. There was no high school soccer in North Carolina to speak of. So it was just the idea of going out and beating the bushes and getting the kids interested in coming to Campbell. I read books and attended coaching clinics, but I learned the most just from getting out and being with the team.”
Cole not only sold the game to the school and players, but also to the community of roughly 3000. Attendance soared during his tenure. During the “Catfish” years, the school hosted bonfires and pep rallies before big matches. Cole also raised the level of soccer awareness and appeal statewide. He instituted an annual high school tournament and invited teams from all over the state to participate. He helped attract the NAIA national tournament to Dunn, just 11 miles from the campus, in the early ‘70s when organizers were seeking a warm-weather venue.
1970: First-ever recipient of the NAIA Soccer Coach of the Year award 1976: NAIA Meritorious Achievement Award for contributions to collegiate soccer 1997: Campbell University Sports Hall of Fame
Comments from a former player: he put his heart and soul into recruiting and got involved in national organizations; his organizational skills were great and he was a student of the game; he’ll tell you that he had enough sense to know that he had to learn the game from our talented players.