When Jim Coats takes over as sheriff of Pinellas County, he will be no stranger to executive decisions and leadership.
For one thing, he has been chief deputy to Everett Rice for the past nine years with lots of executive responsibility.
And before that, in the 1990s, he was Johnny on the spot in three jurisdictions that were in disarray.
Governor Lawton Chiles appointed him interim sheriff in Santa Rosa County and a couple years later he responded again to the call of Tallahassee and straightened out a mess in the Sheriff's Office in Gulf County.
In addition to those stints up in the Panhandle, Coats served temporarily as the police chief in Indian Rocks Beach when that city's force was in turmoil and the city eventually made the transition to using the Sheriff's Office for policing.
So Coats is no stranger to being on the hot seat in sensitive and critical situations.
This modest, self-effacing yet accomplished man is not facing anything but a smooth and well ordered situation when he takes over in Pinellas County.
Under the sure and steady hand of Rice, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has a reputation as one of the best law enforcement departments in Florida, if not the whole country.
And Coats has been on the cutting edge of the progress and techniques employed in the county. Coats sees more of it happening. Because he has been in on that growth for the past decade, he is taking command of a department in which he has been an integral and instrumental part.
Is the _expression, "self made man" still in vogue?
Coats is the very exemplification of that.
He doesn't say it, but you could say it when you know his story -- no one ever gave Jim Coats anything; but he did see opportunities and when he did he acted on them.
When he got out of high school in Corning, N.Y. (yes, the glass city) he headed for the U.S. Air Force. Along the way he got stationed in frigid Montana which got a dislike for cold weather tattooed on his brain.
To get out of the place, he volunteered for Vietnam, which was cranking up at that time. Instead, the Air Force sent him to Hawaii.
He was discharged in Hawaii, continued to work as a civilian for the Air Force, had saved some money, bought a 1968 Dodge Charger brand new, took delivery in Reno, Nevada and headed straight for Florida.
Coats had a yen to fly so he commuted from Plant City to St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport to go to flying school and got the whole works -- single and multi-engine tickets, instrument certification, instructor credentials and checked out as a 727 engineer.
After he had enrolled at St. Petersburg Junior College (a B.A. degree in criminal justice from St. Leo University came later) a friend suggested he hook up with the Pinellas Sheriff's Office because word was that there was going to be a flight unit.
Coats put his friend off, but the guy pushed him and an application was submitted. He did not show up for a requested interview but, he says, when he got a letter signed by then Sheriff Don Genung he did show up.
He was hired and just about everybody in Pinellas County knows the rest of the story -- only a smattering of which you have had here.
He and Cathie have been married since 1973 and their son, Jay, has his own business.
When Rice took over the Sheriff's Office there were problems. He leaves office with the PCSO in the good hands of Jim Coats that Rice has groomed.
We can all sleep better with this guy and his people watching over us.
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