Note: First of all, I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Stan Cotten for allowing me to sit down and chat with him for an hour. He was extremely patient with me, and couldn’t have been a nicer guy! If you don’t already, give him a follow on Twitter @StanCottenWF.
If it wasn’t for a knee injury in high school, Wake Forest fans may never have heard of Stan Cotten. Or at least not as a radio broadcaster, and certainly not as “The Voice of the Deacons”. Stan was a highly recruited football player in high school before having to end his career due to nagging knee injuries.
“To make a long story short, the radio station carrying our games wanted me to help in the broadcast somehow since I couldn’t play. They gave me a tape recorder and wanted me to do some pre-game interviews with some of the players since I knew them well. I thought I could have some fun with it”, said Cotten.
“I did that, and from that came a part-time job at the radio station. The knee injury was so bad that I couldn’t play anymore. So I went to school at Tennessee just as a student, and I was still working at the radio station while in college just for the fun of it. I really had no long-term plans at that point to go into media.”
As is the case for many people in life, Stan’s plans would change.
“My high school coach then went into the college ranks at a small school, Carson-Newman University, and he said while you’re playing around with this radio thing why don’t you come up to Carson-Newman (which is about thirty minutes from Knoxville) on the weekends and broadcast the games. So I started doing that, and right away I fell in love with it and decided that’s what I wanted to do for a living.”
Stan’s journey in broadcasting would take him from Carson-Newman to Marshall, and then on to Wake Forest, where he has just finished his twenty-first year as the play-by-play announcer for football and basketball.
One constant during his time at Wake has been having color commentator Mark Freidinger (affectionately known as “The Dinger”) at his side for basketball games.
“It’s truly been one of the joys of my career to work with Mark, simply because number one, he LOVES basketball. I mean, outside of his family, which he’s very passionate about, he is passionate about basketball-that’s his thing.
“He knows so much about the game and has a unique and very good way of communicating the game to a listener. He’s got so much information up in his head; yet he’s able to simplify it in quick bursts, allowing me to do my thing while he gets to do his, and hopefully, together, it comes out as a really good thing.”
Other than during Dinger’s absence from shoulder surgery or when Stan is busy with football, I can’t recall a time when turning on the radio that I haven't heard Stan and Mark for Wake basketball games.
Cotten was the play-by-play man for all of Jim Grobe’s tenure at Wake, and he and Coach Grobe remain close friends.
“Well, I love Jim Grobe. I always have. I remember from the very first moment I met him I knew I’d like him a lot. That’s not unique to me-that’s just the way he was and continues to be with everybody he meets I think.
“Our relationship continues to this day. We’re in touch with one another from time-to-time, mostly via texting, and things like that, but with him I know I’ve got a friend for the rest of my life.“
Stan recounted the magic of the 2006 ACC Championship season for me, and what it was like to watch that unfold from the radio booth.
“Because of the way it started; with the predictions of nothing much anticipated for the season; with Wake predicted near or at the bottom of the ACC, it became surreal as the season went along. Using hindsight to look back on it, it was magical in many, many ways. Going through it, it was like a snowball, in that it continued to build and build and build. There was a stretch where Wake won four games in a row prior to losing to Virginia Tech. That felt almost like a playoff game---like each week it was: if we can win this one, we can build on that. It was just crazy, and to able to be there (the Orange Bowl) and to describe not only that game, but the entire season, was probably in a way the pinnacle of my career because it was such a special moment for Wake Forest-a great moment for all of the Wake fans. For the football program to get to that level was just crazy to be a part of.“
Of course I had to ask him about one of my all-time favorites, Skip Prosser.
“I don’t know if I have a favorite “Skipism”; he was just such a sweetheart. I loved him, and we had a really good relationship---and again, that wasn’t unique to me. He just had that way of making everybody feel special. I think that was his great talent.
“He was the one that always said that I was a football guy, and he had me pegged really. I loved football, and again, as I told you earlier, I wanted to play it for as long as I could. But Skip just had a way of making you feel relevant and making you feel special.
“His death was so tragic, and it was such a loss. I’ll never forgot that day, and I think in some ways we (the Wake Forest community) still never really have recovered from that. And how do you? How do you recover from losing someone like that? So we’ll always feel his loss. Wake Forest is without question, and all of us who knew Skip would attest to this. Because of Skip Prosser, Wake is a better place and we are better people for having known him. That’s his legacy and I’m not sure you could have a better one than that.”
I wholeheartedly agree, Stan.
As far as more typical questions, Stan said his favorite place to call a basketball game other than the Joel is Cameron Indoor Stadium. For football, other than BB&T it’s Clemson’s Memorial Stadium in Death Valley.
His favorite players to interview were Tim Duncan, Travis McKie, and Rafael Vidauretta for basketball. For football, it was Chris Barclay and Riley Skinner.
Cotten’s favorite players to watch play were Chris Barclay for football and Josh Howard for basketball.
Stan’s favorite memories as the Voice of the Deacs include the Orange Bowl for football and his first NCAA Tournament game for basketball. See the full interview for more detailed answers on all of his favorites.
Stan was a huge Tennessee fan growing up, and as a result he went to every home game could. But for away games, and the home ones he couldn’t make, he listened to longtime Tennessee radioman John Ward call the action.
Stan credits much of his broadcasting style to Ward.
“I would listen to John Ward and once I made the decision to call games. I thought, ‘Well, I don’t really know how to do this other than what I’ve heard John Ward do,’ so I was caught in that ‘that’s got to be how you do it, but I don’t want to copy him’ phase, so without trying to copy him---I think he’s the best I’ve ever heard. So I think and I hope that there’s a little bit of him in me. Again, not trying to copy him necessarily-but that’s just the way I thought it was done, so as a much younger broadcaster as I was starting my career, I found myself in some ways calling a game the way that he would.
“Some of the things that I say without really trying are some of the things he used to say. Hopefully I’ve tried to let some of my own personality come out in the way we broadcast games. I’ve never been really intentional about a catchphrase. But without question I’ll be the first to admit that John Ward at Tennessee has influenced me more than anybody else. If I’m half as good as he is I’m 'ok-half as good' (laughs). I’m not sure I’m there yet, but if I am, I’m ok.”
I also asked him about his gameday preparation for calling games, but I’ll let you read the full interview for that. The video below from the IMG Audio Facebook page is a great summary:
My final question for Stan was that if there was one thing that doesn’t come across on the radio that he wants people to know, what would it be?
“You know, most people who listen to us don’t know me personally-they don’t. They might think they do and feel like they do, and I understand that because I’m the same. I watch a lot of sports on television and listen to a lot of sports and I feel like I know those people. I think that’s just kind of part of the equation. But what I would hope people know is that I always try to be genuine and to be the same person on the air that I am off the air. I always try to be myself and be honest through every situation. I also always try to treat people like I want to be treated, with courtesy and respect. Life is too short to think we are better than others. We're all in this together!”
After the interview Stan showed me the radio booth at BB&T Field and explained what they do for their gameday production.
Stan’s last statement above couldn’t be more true. He really made me feel like a person who mattered---more than just a college senior writing about Wake Forest sports for fun, and he didn’t take my questions lightly. I have the utmost respect for a man like Stan Cotten. If you ever get the chance to meet him, make sure to stop and say hello. You’ll be glad you did.
August will be here before we know it, and I know all of us look forward to hearing Stan’s voice calling Deacon touchdowns once again. To use one of his phrases, I’ll see you on the air, Stan!