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Coach Spotlight: How Dawson County Tigers basketball coach Todd Cottrell followed in his father’s footsteps
Lakeview Academy coach Todd Cottrell talks with his players during a timeout during the second round of the 2019 Class A private school playoffs in Gainesville. Photo courtesy Derek Fadool

At the end of May, Dawson County hired Todd Cottrell as the county’s new Head Boy’s Basketball Coach, taking over for Eric Herrick who became the new Lady Tigers head basketball coach. 

Prior to accepting his position in Dawson County, Cottrell had coached at Lakeview Academy in Hall County for seven years, leading the program to back-to-back Region 8- A titles in 2016 and 2017, with an appearance in the semi-finals of the state tournament in 2017. 

Cottrell likes playing a fast-paced brand of basketball. He said he asks his players to play with great intensity on defense so that they can play smart on offense. After a few summer workouts, he says the Tigers will be able to keep up with the pace he’s asked of them. 

“It’s hard to do, but we want it to be fun to watch,” Cottrell said. “If you’re sharing the ball and playing with great intensity, that’s fun.”

Coaching has become a lifelong career for Cottrell. Before coaching at Lakeview, he held the same head coaching positions at Gainesville, Flowery Branch and White County. Cottrell has been surrounded by basketball his entire life and says he has no interest in giving it up any time soon. 

Growing up, Cottrell and his family moved from place to place keeping up with his dad’s career as a collegiate basketball coach. And once his father, Steve Cottrell, finally caught his big break as the head coach of Division-1 program Western Carolina University, the Cottrell family could finally stop unpacking and rest in one place for a while.

“My dad is my hero,” Cottrell said. “Most kids wanna be just like their dad and I’m no different.”

My father taught me that you’re there to help you students and your athletes grow and try to get better. If you don’t enjoy that, then you’re not going to be doing that and you don’t need to be there.
Todd Cottrell

Cottrell went to a small high school and became a four-sport athlete, playing football, baseball, track and basketball. 

When colleges started recruiting him, Cottrell said he probably could have played a couple sports at a few universities, but decided to stick with football. Cottrell played quarterback at Western Carolina University for five years. 

“I got to see how dad interacted with his players,” Cottrell said. “He was all about trying to be a better person.” 

While he was with Western Carolina, a local school needed help with their basketball program. Cottrell volunteered and had some success with the middle school and junior varsity teams. 

After college, Cottrell decided to try giving coaching college football a try and was able to get a spot with the Western Carolina team. However, Cottrell found out there was not much money coaching for a college back then and when he got married and started a family that a move to high school sports was something he should consider. 

“My dad told me I was stupid to try to do it,” Cottrell said. “He would say ‘Did you not see how much work it is when I did it?’”

After assisting with the football and basketball team with a school in Asheville, North Carolina, Cottrell said he knew he wanted an opportunity to be a head coach. Basketball just happened to present itself first. And Cottrell has yet to give up the job. In fact, coaching high school basketball has become a Cottrell family affair. Cottrell’s brother is a head coach in North Carolina and his sister is a head coach in Tennessee.

The lessons from the great coaches in his life are what brought him to where he is today, Cottrell said. 

“Coaches always told me the truth, even when I didn’t want to hear it,” Cottrell said. “You have to be honest with your players. Hopefully you have a good enough relationship with them that they know it’s nothing personal.”

It might be the advice that Cottrell received from his father, his hero, that is a daily reminder of why he continues to coach. 

“My father taught me that you’re there to help you students and your athletes grow and try to get better,” Cottrell said. “If you don’t enjoy that, then you’re not going to be doing that and you don’t need to be there.” 

Much like all athletes, sports has taught Cottrell how to handle things like that. Also, how to handle things like his father passing away in September 2019 from a heart attack and epidemics like COVID-19. 

“Sports taught me that you have to adjust,” Cottrell said. “Things don’t always go the way you planned and you have to be able to adjust to the tough.”

Just like every day hardships and struggles, the Tigers basketball team is going through adjustments. With no starters returning to the Dawson County Tigers basketball team after their Region 7-AAA championship last season, Cottrell said it is time for everyone on the team to receive a new role. He expects everyone on the team to contribute with time spent on the court. 

“I’m asking for their best and they’re going to get my best,” Cottrell said. “I’m going to be honest and fair. I’m probably going to make a lot of mistakes but it’s not gonna be because I don’t care.” 

Being honest and fair is something Cottrell said he prides himself in being. Though he said that the rivers, mountains and lakes are nice, it’s the honesty and fairness of the people in Dawson County that he has started to notice and admire.

“My first impression of the people of Dawson County and the players I’ll get to coach is that doing the right thing is a very huge deal,” Cottrell said. 

Overall, Cottrell said his end goal is for everyone he coaches to have a great experience. He said that it is hard to handle when he knows somebody left not having the experience they desired from being on the team. 

“If they still call you and they still come see you and you’re involved in their life even when they’re done playing that is the sign of a successful coach,” Cottrell said. “Winning and losing doesn’t compare to a lifelong relationship.”