GAINESVILLE — Todd Cottrell is trading in his wings for hooves.
After leading the Flowery Branch Falcons to a Region 7-AAA title and an elite eight appearance in this year’s state basketball playoffs, Cottrell has resigned from his position at Flowery Branch and accepted the head coaching position at Gainesville High, where he will replace longtime Gainesville coach Jerry Davis.
“My wife and I feel very comfortable and we feel that this is where the Lord wants us to be,” Cottrell said on Friday afternoon after being formally introduced as the new coach of the Red Elephants. “There’s so many good things about Gainesville High School and its going to be fun to be a part of.”
Cottrell coached two years at Flowery Branch, helping turn a team that won four games in his first season into a 26-game winner in 2007-08. It was that success that ultimately put Cottrell’s name at the top of the nine finalists for the job.
“The committee’s job was to find the best coach, the best person and the best fit for Gainesville High School,” Gainesville principal Mike Kemp said. “A lot of talented coaches applied and it was a difficult choice. But I feel that we found the best successor to lead this program into the future.”
Kemp, nor Gainesville Athletic Director Wayne Vickery stated which other coaches were in the running for the job, but both said that Cottrell was the first choice.
“I know they interviewed a lot of high-quality coaches and I’m flattered to even be considered with some of those guys,” Cottrell said.
“I feel the same about replacing Coach Davis,” he added. “Those are some very big shoes to fill and I don’t think anybody will ever be able to fill those shoes. I just want to carry on the tradition that he started and try to go from there.”
Cottrell went on to say that he had spoken with Davis, who won more than 700 games in his coaching career, and that the outgoing Gainesville coach said “some very encouraging things” that meant a lot to him.
This is not the first time that Cottrell has had an opportunity to replace Davis, as Gainesville interviewed the former Falcons coach five years ago, when Davis first talked about retiring. But Davis was talked out of retirement and told Vickery that he would only coach 3-5 more years, a time table that ended when the Red Elephants were eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs this year.
But while Gainesville struggled to a 15-14 record this year, Cottrell and the Falcons were flying high en route to a 26-4 record and the school’s first region championship. That success, plus the fact that Flowery Branch is only losing two players off that roster next year, made leaving the Falcons a difficult decision for Cottrell.
“Those young men are very special and they’ll always be very special to me,” Cottrell said. “It was difficult for me to tell them, but I think they understand.”
Cottrell’s departure leaves the Flowery Branch in search of a new basketball coach.
“It was a decision that he made and we hate to see him go,” Flowery Branch Athletic Director Shannon Benton said. “For whatever reason, he feels like he needs to be there. He’s a fine man and was a great influence on our kids.”
While Benton would not go into detail on Cottrell’s replacement at Flowery Branch, he did say that he has already had five inquiries about the position.
“In my opinion, coach Cottrell walked away from the best job in the area,” Benton said. “We will attract head coaches with great resumes and I have confidence that people are excited about what we have here.
“We hired Todd Cottrell at Flowery Branch for the man we knew he was, for his ability to lead young men and for his basketball knowledge,” he added. “Those qualities are going to be hard to find and we’re going to miss him, but we will replace him.”
Benton, who is also putting the final touches on finding a replacement for Angela Middleton, the Lady Falcons basketball coach who resigned on March 3, said that the administration will field inquiries about the boys position, but will wait until after spring break before any interviews take place.
“We’re not going to drag our feet,” Benton said. “But we’re going to be patient and not impulsive.”
While Benton and the rest of the administration at Flowery Branch scour the ensuing applications for Cottrell’s replacement, the former Falcons coach is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to begin his tenure at Gainesville.
“This is a unique challenge because of tradition and expectations of having to follow a legendary coach,” Cottrell said. “Coach (Joe) Dix had to do it at East Hall with Coach (Seth) Vining and I hope I can be as successful as they’ve been.”
As for when Gainesville and Flowery Branch play each other next year? Cottrell, as well as his former athletic director know that emotions will be running high.
“These kids know that they get to play him two or three times next year and they want to show him that he made a mistake in leaving,” Benton said.
Cottrell hopes that emotions will not be a factor when the two teams square off.
“I’m sure those guys (at Flowery Branch) will play extremely well and I hope that our guys will play extremely well,” Cottrell said. “Hopefully we won’t get to attached emotionally and try to focus on playing basketball.”