Winning seems to follow Gainesville boys basketball coach Todd Cottrell. At least it did when he took the head coaching job with the Red Elephants this past season.
Fresh off a region title with Flowery Branch in 2008, Cottrell won another one in his first year at Gainesville, winning 21 games and leading the Red Elephants to the Class AAA state semifinals for the first time since 2002.
“This group had a strong belief in what they could accomplish,” Cottrell said. “They had expectations and they reached most of those expectations.”
Before coming to Gainesville, Cottrell was already familiar to the program; he had just never coached them. Instead, he was on the other side of court, leading Flowery Branch to four wins against the Red Elephants during the 2007-08 season, including the Region 7-AAA championship game.
But when long-time Gainesville coach Jerry Davis stepped down at the end of the 2007-08 season, Cottrell and his staff accepted the offer to direct the team that played its home games only minutes away from the Falcons.
“One of the hardest professional decisions for us was to leave Flowery Branch,” Cottrell said. “It’s good because you get to see a lot of people you were close to, but we had to play against them, which was no fun at all.”
On top of the close proximity to his former employer, Cottrell was faced with the pressure of picking up where Davis left off, and continue the storied tradition at Gainesville.
“Nobody’s going to replace a Jerry Davis,” Cottrell said. “Everyone knows he was a great coach, but he’s an even better person.”
It was that kindness of Davis the kick-started Cottrell’s successful transition to the Red Elephants program. When the former coach handed the team over to Cottrell, he also offered instruction.
“He left the program in excellent shape,” Cottrell said. “Every time I needed something, I would call him and he’d answer.
“He was genuine. That made things so much easier.”
Not too easy, though. The Red Elephants struggled out the gates, losing their first three games of the season and going 5-6 through their first 11 games.
But with six seniors and even more juniors with experience, Cottrell brought the pieces together in time for region play where Gainesville went 7-2 and had a seven-game winning streak.
After a loss to East Hall on Feb. 6, the Red Elephants had an even longer streak, winning nine in a row, earning a Region 7-AAA title and a state semifinals appearance on the way.
“The best thing this year was watching a group of guys decide what they want to do and actively pursue it,” Cottrell said. “This team not only talked about it, they did it.”
Cottrell credits a highly supportive coaching staff and a close bond his players for the team’s strong finish to the season.
“We had our frictions, everybody out there was a competitor,” Cottrell said. “But they did a good job of leaving that on the floor.”
With region titles in each of his last two years, Cottrell now looks to make it three in a row. With starters returning and more depth on the bench, Gainesville basketball looks poised to keep winning.
“One of the best things about coaching is that it’s different every year,” Cottrell said. “The interesting thing will be who steps up to fill the new roles.”