Robert Cole enjoyed great success as the Yokosuka Seahawks head football coach. He says he’s hoping for similar success as he transitions from the sideline into his new role as U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League commissioner.

Cole offered on Monday to step down as Seahawks coach and replace outgoing commissioner Kyle Rhodus, who announced his resignation last week. Cole’s nomination was supported unanimously by the league’s other teams; Rhodus confirmed Tuesday that he would begin the transition process with Cole.

"He did a great job organizing the Seahawks; he should do a fine job organizing the league," said Rhodus, adding that it’s a "good idea" to have a commissioner based in the Kanto Plain.

"He’s definitely familiar with all the logistics involved. And he has a passion for the league, which is probably the most important thing."

That passion, Cole said, left him with mixed feelings as he chose the greater good of the league over his love of coaching.

"I’d much rather be coaching, but I want to keep this league going," Cole said. "This is for sailors, airmen, Marines and soldiers; this is a program for them. We’d hate to see it go away. This is the only place left in the military where you can play football."

Cole, 37, is a Navy petty officer first class assigned to Yokosuka’s Fleet Public Affairs Center-Japan Detachment. Originally from Vermilion, Ohio, Cole played football in high school and for semi-pro teams in Ohio and San Diego.

He arrived at Yokosuka in 2004 and took over the Seahawks from Isaac Lee, who with his predecessor Kerry Harris won USFJ-AFL titles in 2000 and 2002. Cole added three titles of his own, in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Already, Cole has e-mailed league coaches seeking updated contact information and set a date for the USFJ-AFL’s preseason coaches’ meeting, at which the season schedule is set and bylaws updated.

His vision, he says, is not just to keep the league going, but to re-incorporate Kadena as a full-fledged league member; the Dragons dropped out to help form the now-defunct Okinawa Football League in 2004. And Cole also wants to restore a team at Naval Air Facility Atsugi; the Atsugi Falcons suspended operations late in the 2007 season.

"We want to put them on the schedule and try to get everybody to honor the schedule," Cole said, adding that he’d like to bring a couple of Japanese teams into the league as well.

With the positive response he says he’s received from league coaches, Cole feels that "everybody’s on the same page and wants to get this going and soon. I think we’ll have a successful season."

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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