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Lunch With Mike Holmes

Associate Photo Director sits down with sports to speak about his life as a former Georgia State student, as well as his career in the communication department. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

On this week’s Lunch With, I sat down with Mike Holmes, the associate athletic director of sports communications at Georgia State. 

We met up at Junior’s Pizza, a new pizza joint in Summerhill, just a couple of blocks away from Georgia State Stadium. As a proud New Yorker, restaurants like Junior’s are a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine. Give me a couple of slices of pepperoni pizza, and I am always happy. 

Over the course of the discussion, Mike and I tackled life as a communications specialist and how he came to get the position. As a former student, Holmes has seen the university and its sports programs grow up before his eyes.

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What follows are highlights from our talk.

 

Espen: So talk a little bit about what goes into the work you do here in the communications office.

Mike: We oversee everything external for the department from the websites to press releases and social media. We basically serve as a liaison between our student athletes, coaches, administration and the media. Obviously that’s changed a lot over the years. Now, the biggest way we reach our students is through their social media. So, we continue to look for ways to expand on how we can get the program’s messages out.

Espen: So, tell me about where we are sitting down to eat today. To my understanding, there is a vision to improve the neighborhood?

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Mike: Mike: Yeah, so the athletic department moved into the stadium about two years ago, but we felt like we were kind of on an island. There was nothing around here. Now, as you and I sit here at Junior’s Pizza, things are changing. Over the last few months, we’ve seen all these restaurants start to open up as well as the new dorms. We like to think the athletic department is in a transformational stage. Well, so is this whole Summerhill area. It’s exciting to be a part of.

Espen: I want to ask you about what the university was like back when you were studying here. You have a unique perspective, in that you’ve not only seen the athletic teams grow, but the school itself. What was Georgia State like back then?

Mike: So I was a freshman in 1998, two years after the Olympics. At that time there was not a single dorm room bed on campus. We lived in the old Olympic Village, which was great. I loved all four years living there. But if you had a 9:30 class, you are on a MARTA bus by 9:00 to get down to campus. You couldn’t walk down Piedmont Avenue and feel safe. Now, if you walk down Piedmont, all you see is students among students from five thirty in the morning until well after midnight. Ever since we launched football in 2010, we’ve seen a big change. There’s much more school pride. There’s many more students who are coming to Georgia State because they want to be at Georgia State. So that’s very exciting for the school.

Espen: And how about when you first began in the communications department?

Mike: When I first got here, we had a very small budget. So, if we had a staff meeting or coach’s meeting, we could fit everybody into a small room. The baseball coach, for instance, had to mow the field himself out in Panthersville. If you fast forward 20 years to what we’ve become now, however, we not only have some great facilities, we have even more great facilities coming in the near future.

Espen: Now what brought you to Atlanta? You are from the Northeast, correct?

Mike: So, I’m originally from New Jersey. I moved to Georgia my freshman year of high school. But I was a big city guy. I grew up outside of Newark, New Jersey and was only 25 minutes from Manhattan. When I moved down here, we settled in Suwanee, but I knew when I started looking at schools that there were only three I wanted to go to: Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State. I wasn’t into the whole scene in Athens. It is a great town, but perhaps a bit more country than what I was used to. I quickly realized that if I went to Georgia Tech,  would have to study more than I ever wanted to in my life in the first semester alone. But I knew I wanted to be downtown and Georgia State had and still has a great business school. And so it just seemed like the right fit for me. When I was in high school I worked with the basketball team doing stats and video. So once I got to college, I was an 18-year-old looking for beer money. I knew I loved sports and had played a bunch growing up. And Georgia State put me to work. My first game ended being Georgia State versus Georgetown in the Georgia Dome. At that time, I did not know whether or not I wanted to do that kind of work long term, but it was fun.

Mike: Eventually, I was offered a full-time position during my senior year. I turned it down because I still wanted to be a college student. After that, I stayed around for grad school and was the assistant men’s golf coach, which I had a blast with. But I ended up leaving for about five years to start a company in Jacksonville with a buddy of mine. I like to think I lived out my midlife crisis in my twenties, so hopefully I’m good the rest of the way. 

Mike: Later in April of 2008, Georgia State relaunched football. I got a call that July from my old boss asking if I wanted to come back. And I had thought about coming back, but the funny thing is, I never wanted Georgia State to add football. People look at me like I am crazy when I say that, but I was scared to death we wouldn’t do it right. But when I heard Bill Curry was behind it, I knew there was no way he would attach his name to something that wasn’t going to be successful. So I came back. At first, I was kind of the low man on the totem pole, but anybody you ask knows I love this place. 

Espen: So, being a struggling New York sports fan myself, I assume you’re a New York sports guy as well?

Mike: Oh yeah, I was and still am a die-hard New York sports fan and it drives some people nuts here. I love the New York Mets. I went to my first game in 1984 when I was four. I blame my father and grandfather for it because I probably could have been a Yankees fan now and had a lot more championships under my belt. But every time they’re here in Atlanta, I catch at least a game. I actually flew up to New York City for less than a day just to catch a World Series game in 2015. I’m also a big Nets fan. A funny story about my Nets fandom: I went to my first game in 1989. Me and a ton of my buddies saw them play the Chicago Bulls. Everybody left that stadium a Bulls fan because of Michael Jordan. For whatever reason, I left a Nets fan. Why did I do that? I could have enjoyed six championships in eight years.

Espen: As a depressed Knicks fan, I can sympathize with you there.

Mike: So I guess that’s why I love Georgia State a little more. Pretty much every team I have supported, apart from the 1986 Mets, is an underdog.

Espen: Over the years, what have been some of your best memories around Georgia State sports? I said the same thing to my last guests, I remember R.J. Hunter’s three-pointer being the defining moment in my decision to apply to Georgia State.

Mike: Everything that played into that shot changed my career and I feel like that was what led me to this position. We got back from New Orleans at one in the morning and I did not leave my office until 10:30 that following night. We had 5000 stories written about us that week and I had to process over 250 media requests. I joke with R.J. every time I see him that his shot not only propelled his career, it propelled mine. And with all that, I don’t remember the shot. I remember putting my hands underneath myself so I wouldn’t have any reaction. I wanted to keep it 100 percent professional. From there, the next thing I remember is getting R.J. and Ron across midcourt to the TV. So there is a 45-60 second span of my life that I can’t get back because I just don’t remember it. And I’ve watched the shot a million times. You can see me sitting there. But I literally don’t remember any of it.

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