Chris Cotter knew exactly what he was getting into when he took over the football head coach position at Riverside Military Academy last year.
Also the school’s athletic director, Cotter had previously served as an assistant on the Eagles coaching staff under Scott Sloan. Because Riverside is a private boarding school, student turnover can be dramatic from one year to the next, and students aren’t on campus the entire summer.
Those factors work against a football program, especially having summers off. The Eagles miss out on 7-on-7 camps and team retreats designed to build camaraderie.
And heading into the 2011 season, the Eagles’ offseason has had an additional wrinkle — their offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator left the team. Defensive coordinator Charrod Taylor left for an assistant coach position Hamline University (St. Paul, Minn.) in March, while offensive coordinator Darius Smiley left for Carrollton High just three weeks ago.
“It’s been this way since I got here,” Cotter said. “It’s OK. I mean, it’s hard to say goodbye, but they’re leaving for greener pastures. No one left because they were displeased or in a huff. They understand while we’re not seeing our kids during the summer, other teams are practicing. So it’s hard for me to begrudge them, so I don’t.”
The two assistants made up half of Cotter’s four-man coaching staff. Cotter will take over the defensive coordinator role and hired Sheldon Ward away from Lyman Ward Military Academy in Camp Hill, Ala., to run the offense.
Cotter and Ward now must scramble to install the new offense, and the players will have less than two weeks to learn it before the Eagles’ preseason scrimmage Aug. 12. A week later, they play their season opener, hosting Pinecrest Academy.
As tough as it would be for a public school program to endure a coaching turnover this late in the summer, Cotter insists it doesn’t impact Riverside the same way. He said the Eagles basically start from scratch every year anyway.
For instance, the Eagles have just four returning players from last year’s 52-man roster. Thirty-nine have signed up so far this season, and Cotter is hoping for around 50 players again by the start of the season.
“It is what it is,” Cotter said. “In a boarding school situation, my roster reads like a college one. I’ve got kids from around the country and around the world on my team. We’re certainly unique in nature, and a lot of kids have never played before.”
Another of Cotter’s remaining offseason duties is to up his coaching staff from three to five members.
Though the circumstances of Riverside’s situation may be less than ideal, Cotter said he’s very happy at Riverside.
“I believe in the mission of this school and their philosophies on education,” said Cotter, who also coached in public schools for 18 years. “Kids can get a great education here and learn from a military aspect.
“And I believe I can build a winning program here.”