Growing up in Homewood schools Cole Cubelic wasn’t passionate about world history, algebra or biology. But the world of sports was a different story. He would announce the games he and friends played on videogames as a kid— RBI Baseball, Tecmo Bowl, NBA Jam, Madden and the like.
Today, that passion is on display weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as Cole cohosts the 3 Man Front radio show on WJOX-94.5 FM. It is also evident during podcasts on Sirus XM radio and on college football broadcasts on the SEC Network and ESPN.
Since 2011, Cole, now 41, has been a college football analyst for ESPN and currently appears on SEC Saturday Night, providing on-field analysis on the SEC Network’s marquee Saturday Night college football game. He is a frequent contributor to The Paul Finebaum Show and other SEC Network programming too.
And to anyone who lends an ear, it is evident that Cole has done his homework when it comes to the topic of the day with cohosts Aaron Suttles and Landrum Roberts, or as he provides in-depth analysis of game that has him on the sideline or the podcast he’s delivering.
“As far as work, he’s very serious about it,” Aaron says of Cole. “He works really hard at it. As someone who also works hard and takes my career very seriously, I appreciate working with someone who I know is putting in as much effort and as much thought making what we do as successful as possible.”
The daily radio show is a dream job for Cole but it’s one he couldn’t have imagined, much less dreamed, in the very area of Birmingham that set him on his life’s path. That path has come full circle as Cole again lives in Homewood, now with his wife Katherine and their children – 4-year-old Katherine Elizabeth “Kit,” and 2-year-old John Judge who goes by “Judge.”
Speaking at the Homewood Grown fundraiser for Homewood City Schools Foundation earlier this year, Cole recounted his earliest days in Homewood. His parents Tom and Christy Cubelic had divorced, and when he was 2, he and his mother moved from Center Point to Homewood.
“I knew I wanted him in Homewood schools,” Christy recalls. “Being newly divorced, I couldn’t afford a house, so I had to make a choice, a decision where I wanted him to grow up.”
From his home base in the apartment where he lived until he left Homewood to continue his education at Auburn University, Cole remembers playing wiffleball and tackle football and days in the pool. “You think about being a toddler, being in elementary school, you think about being a teenager, a middle school kid, you know, graduating high school, those things all took place when I lived in those apartments,” he recalls. “It still feels like home when I drive through there.”
He also calls to mind the nurturing teachers at Hall-Kent Elementary who “made me feel loved, and made me feel important every single day. Those teachers cared and they showed me what it was like to care, to love, to guide.”
Over at Homewood baseball parks, coaches helped him deal with some occasional anger issues.
“He had a really short fuse,” Christy recalls of her son. “He had a bad temper and he had a hard time controlling it. It’s something that he really had to work on. I think that’s where sports came in that really helped him.” In the end, it was football that set Cole “in the right direction, on the right path,” his mother recalls, with coaches like Bob Newton and Dickey Wright giving her son needed guidance.
One of the most instructional periods of Cole’s athletic career came when he couldn’t take the field. The Homewood High Patriots won a state football championship while he was out with an injury. “It taught me an appreciation for what other people do (and) an appreciation for being a part of a team,” he says today. “I wanted to be the leader of the team, I wanted to be the best player on the team, I wanted to be the best player in the state. And I didn’t think they should be able to do that without me. ”
After the onset of that injury, though, recruiting calls from some schools went silent. “It was pretty much Auburn who continued to call and continued to talk to him,” Christy says. “The majority of schools like Alabama, Mississippi quit calling. I think he was not only humbled, but very grateful that Auburn was still (recruiting him).”
Cole would learn another lesson in patience during his career on the Plains. A disagreement with an assistant coach going into his senior year got him relegated to sixth-string center – and “we didn’t have six centers,” Cole states. The Tigers opened that season against Wyoming. Cole was to have alternated with Ben Nowland at center, but after getting in for one series, he never returned to the field.
“That’s the only time I’ve ever cried after a football game,” he recalls. “I was just devastated. I went in the locker room and didn’t even take a shower. I put my clothes on, put a towel over my head and walked out. I was literally crying all the way back to Sewell Hall.”
Christy remembers seeing her son come out with that towel over his head, knowing he was humiliated, hurt and devastated. “He needed me,” she recalls. “We got in his truck and he drove and I think it was those 10 minutes, five minutes to get to his apartment, that I thought, ‘Gee, he needs some advice.’ I’ve got to really think about what to say that will impact him and not hurt him anymore because I knew he was hurting.”
Cole picks up the conversation. “’You need to make a decision,” he recalls his mother saying. “She’s like, ‘You can shut it down. You can walk away. You’ve got to decide right now you’re going to finish this. Can you keep your mouth shut and you work and you do whatever you need to do?”
Ultimately a knee injury would limit Cole’s play, but he started the Iron Bowl, the SEC Championship Game and the bowl game against Michigan to end his Auburn career. “The night before the bowl game against Michigan, my teammates voted me a permanent captain on that football team, which is one of the one of the things I’m most proud of,” he recalls. “You got a guy that started three games, but it was cool for me to understand that everybody else saw it. (I) stuck it out. (I) busted it. (I) did what (I) needed to do and (I’m) still here. This is pretty cool.”
In the years that followed Cole’s dream of playing in the NFL would not come to fruition. He knew he wanted to get into broadcasting though but didn’t know if it was attainable. His career path took him to pharmaceutical sales and medical sales before he got a taste back in the sports world, first on local radio shows in Huntsville and eventually college football telecasts.
But broadcasting wasn’t the only dream he followed around that time. Cole met Katherine in 2002, and she remembers that sparks were instantaneous. “I think it was pretty immediate probably for both of us,” she recalls. “We hung out in a group setting a few times. I’m pretty sure I called friends after (our first date) and said I definitely see there’s a future with this guy.”
The couple got married five years later. “We were together through some difficult times in my career, especially the TV part when the SEC Network was launched, and I wasn’t a part of it,” he says of a stretch when he worked as few as two games in a season.
“That’s when Katherine sat me down,” Cole recalls. “She’s like, ‘Listen, we’ve got to figure something out because I can’t have you home on Saturday in the fall. You’re miserable. Find something where you’re working or let’s find something else for you to do all together.’”
The next season, he worked 10 games, the next he worked 13 and then he ended up on the Saturday Night Game on the SEC Network. “This will be year three for the Saturday Night Game, so we’ve taken a small step every year, which has been amazing,” he says.
Today Cole says he has two dream jobs: for the SEC Network and WJOX. But Christy says she’s most pleased by her son’s other job – being father to her grandchildren. “One of the proudest things I am of him is what a good father he’s become,” she says. “He’s really there for those two little kids and realizes the importance of that. He’s a good dad. He really is. He makes me proud. He always makes time for those children.”
And, like his mother before him, Cole wanted to raise his children in Homewood. That meant taking his wife away from her hometown in Decatur. He made a soft sales pitch, bringing the family down for a day trip to visit friends and for Katherine to get a feel for the place he had called home.
“We went to the house and played and walked down to Taco Mama and had dinner and got ice cream at Edgewood Creamery,” she recalls. “It was so fun, a cute family experience. I just thought, ‘This is exactly where we need to be.’” And all it took was one night in Homewood to convince Katherine to come back to the streets where he first learned to announce games and countless lessons about sports and life.
Follow Cole Cubelic on Twitter @colecubelic.