Full Transcript of interview with Stan Cotten, “Voice of the Deacons”
Edward Foster: Tell me how you first got into broadcasting, and then how that led you to the job as the Wake Forest play-by-play man.
Stan Cotten: That is a long and winding journey, but just to not go into too much detail because it is a very long story, initially my identity was as a football player. That’s what I wanted to do-play in the NFL, and all of those types of things. I was in high school at the time, was pretty highly recruited on a really good team with a lot of good players, and was going to have the chance to play in college somewhere. A lot of SEC schools, including Tennessee were recruiting me and I felt very fortunate for that. Then I started having knee issues. To make a long story short, the radio station that was carrying our games wanted me to help in the broadcast somehow because I couldn’t play. They gave me a tape recorder and wanted me to do some pregame interviews with some of the players since I knew them well, and said maybe I could have some fun with it. 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.
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 was about thirty minutes from Knoxville-come up on the weekends and broadcast the games. So I started doing that and right away I fell in love with it and decided that that’s what I wanted to do for a living. And low and behold thirty seven years later I’m still doing it and still having a lot of fun. My course took me from Carson Newman to Marshall University, and from Marshall to Wake Forest. I’ve just finished my twenty-first year here, so that’s kind of the short of a long tale. It’s odd the way it happened because it really wasn’t planned. I kind of well backwards into it, and found out if I could make a living doing this it was a way to keep me involved in football and eventually obviously basketball, and now some baseball and all that. So that’s how all that came about.
Edward: You’ve been here many years now, and the one constant in your broadcasting has been having Dinger (Mark Freidinger) as the color commentator for basketball. Talk about what he brings to the broadcast, and what it has been like being partners with him for so long.
Stan: 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 way and a 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 to allow me to do my thing while he gets to do his thing, and hopefully together it comes out as a really good thing. To be able to work with somebody like that who loves basketball so much has just been a joy. We are obviously good friends, and one thing too about Mark is that he’s very, very loyal. To have a partner whom you know has your back in more ways than one is a great thing. I know I can count on Mark, not only on the air, but off the air, and everywhere else. I have been with him now for twenty-one years, and this was his twenty-seventh year of doing radio. He knows what the heck he’s doing, and to able to partner with him is just an absolute joy and I love it. Hopefully he’ll continue to do it for many more years.
Edward: I remember growing up the whole time I’ve listened to games it’s been you and Dinger as the radio team. I remember my brother and I would play basketball in the backyard and we’d take turns commentating trying to imitate the two of your voices.
Edward: You were the play-by-play man for all of Coach Jim Grobe’s tenure here. What was your relationship with him like, and what is a favorite Jim Grobe memory?
Stan: 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. I remember one thing that really cemented me to really liking Jim Grobe was at a practice the first year he was here. It was late in the season, and one of those times of year where when the sun goes down it gets pretty cool, but when it’s up you’re ok. So I was at practice in short sleeves and the sun dipped below the tree line at the practice field. I was standing with Jim as he would do a lot. We probably weren’t talking football-probably golf or family, two of his favorite subjects. The sun dropped below the tree line and he tapped me on the shoulder and said “hey, don’t go anywhere.” I didn’t really pay any attention-I knew he was coming right back, but I didn’t pay any attention to where he was going. I thought he was just going to somewhere else on the field, so I was looking at a drill or whatever was going on at the time. In just a few minutes he was back with a jacket. He had left the practice field, gone into the coaches’ locker room, found a jacket-probably one of his-brought it back, and gave it to me so that I wouldn’t be cold the rest of practice. I thought to myself “Who does that?” I wouldn’t expect my daughters’ youth soccer coaches to do something like that, yet here’s the head coach of an ACC program doing something like that. I think that gives you a window into the type of man Jim Grobe is.
I knew early on he was going to get it done here. In his first year we went to North Carolina, and came back from a school record deficit to win on the road in Chapel Hill. Then the next year going to a bowl game, I just really had a good feeling that he was going to get it done here. There were some lean years after that Seattle Bowl team, but eventually obviously they got the bowl rolling and went all the way to the top. It was a thrill to be a part of that, and look at all the great years that he had here and just to be a very small part of that was something I’ll never forget and will always look fondly back on. 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.
Edward: While we’re on the subject, the 2006 football season where Wake was picked to finish near the bottom of the conference and won the ACC championship with a freshman QB who wasn’t supposed to play in Riley Skinner. I remember being down there in I think it was section 9 and I see Ben Mauk go down with the shoulder injury. Talk about what it was like to watch that whole season unfold?
Stan: Because of the way it started with the predictions of nothing really-near or at the bottom of the ACC-it became surreal as the season went along. When you consider how Wake won the Duke game with a blocked field goal on the last play of the game (by Chip Vaughan), if that play doesn’t happen the rest of the season doesn’t happen either. 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, like each week it was like “if we can win this one we can build on that.” My background at both Carson Newman and Marshall was with playoff football-Marshall was a Division I-AA (now FCS) school at the time and went into the playoffs and won national championships. The same at Carson Newman, although back then Carson Newman was an NAIA school, but went through the playoffs and won national championships. I remember that the game at Maryland felt the most to me like a playoff game. The atmosphere had a big-time buzz in the air before the game. Obviously we won that and got to the ACC championship and won that and went to the Orange Bowl.
The whole Riley Skinner story was a side-bar to the larger story of the season. Sitting in that radio booth at the Orange Bowl was nothing less than spectacular. There were so many Wake Forest people there, and Arnold Palmer and Mohammed Ali. It was just crazy, and to able to be there 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.
Q: I can’t let this interview go by without asking you about Skip Prosser. Personally, granted I was in elementary and middle school at the time, I felt like every time he was on the radio I needed a dictionary to understand what he was saying with his command of the English language. Tell me what it was like to sit down and chat with Skip. Do you have a favorite “Skipism” or favorite memory with him?
Stan: 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. He was such a smart person. I like to read a lot too, but I didn’t read nearly as much as he did. Mostly what I read is junk, but I think Skip read every printed word ever. We would be on an airplane and I would be reading some novel-I read mostly fiction-and I don’t care what it was he would say “Hey Voice”-he always called me Voice, never by my name-“Hey Voice what are you reading?” And I would show him the book and he would say “Ah yes, try… and he would rip off three or four or five more titles from that author. He had not only read the book I was reading, he had read all of those other books. So he was fascinating in that way. I talked earlier about Mark Freidinger’s passion for basketball-Skip just had a passion for teaching-teaching basketball and teaching life. I asked him once about Chris Paul and why he was such a good point guard, and he said “he’s a good point guard because he makes everyone around him better.” Well Skip was a great point guard in that he made everyone around him better.
His death was so tragic, and it was such a loss. I’ll never forgot that day, and I think in some ways we’ve still never really 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, Wake is a better place and we are better people because of Skip Prosser. That’s his legacy and I’m not sure you could have a better one than that.
Edward: Another one involving both football and basketball-You’ve obviously called a lot of games in a whole lot of places. Where is your favorite place to call a game other than BB&T Field and the Joel?
Stan: It’s easy for me in basketball, it’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. There are multiple reasons for that. One is you’re never favored in there so it’s always a big challenge. The last time I called a win there was with Tim Duncan in my very first year here. So that’s been a long time. It’s always a challenge, Duke is always going to be ready not only as a basketball team, but the students do a great job packing it. It’s a small, intimate place and that’s another reason why I like to go there. Another one is the vantage point there. We’re up in the catwalk which kind of hangs out over the court, and that takes me back to my roots at the old Stokely Athletic Center at the University of Tennessee. It was a higher vantage point than Cameron in a bigger building. But it was very similar in that you were kind of hanging over the court. When I was working at the radio station there I would go up and hang out behind the Tennessee broadcast crew and watch them do the games and try to get interviews afterward for my sportscasts throughout the day and weeks ahead. It was just very similar so that’s another reason why I like it. I’m a sentimental, nostalgic person by nature, so every time I go into Cameron Indoor Stadium it kind of feels like going into the old Stokely Athletic Center in Knoxville. So I enjoy that and still waiting for that next win and asking “Is it going to be tonight?” That’s the feeling that I get every time I walk in there, and boy this past season really came close-that was cool being close.
Football is harder, though I really like going to Clemson. Obviously it’s a challenge too winning there, but Clemson’s whole presentation to me-especially pregame-is really, really good. Maybe it’s the color orange-I’m not sure, that might have something to do with it (laughs)-but the whole Howard’s Rock and running down the hill, and I really like Clemson’s fight song (the Tiger Rag-I do too). They just do a great job there. The old broadcast booth had a little sliding window and I used to joke it was kind of like broadcasting from the drive-thru window at your favorite local burger joint. Now they’ve redone it there at Memorial Stadium, and it’s a beautiful broadcast booth to work from now. There’s a lot about Clemson that I really like, and although there are a lot of close seconds that’s probably off the top my head my favorite other than where you and I sit right now at BB&T Field.
Edward: Each announcer has his own style that he uses to call games. Take me through how Stan Cotten developed Stan Cotten’s style and where did some of your catchphrases come from?
Stan: It’s interesting-growing up this not what I really planned to do, and I was a huge Tennessee fan. Whenever I couldn’t go to the Tennessee games-which I didn’t miss many home games and for a number of years I didn’t miss any at all-and for all of the road games I would listen to the games on the radio since most of the games weren’t on TV back in the mid-late ‘60s and ‘70s when I was really listening when I was such a fan and I was a young guy and all I wanted to do was soak up everything that was Tennessee. I would listen to John Ward (Tennessee’s play-by-play man at the time) 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. I’m partial because he was at Tennessee and that’s where I’m from. And there are great radio announcers, but he was certainly one of the greats, and he was the one that I listened to all the time so I thought he was the best and still to do. 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 started 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. Now there are certain catchphrases of his like “bottom” in a basketball game when the ball would go through the basket that I know the late Gene Overby at Wake Forest would say the same thing. I don’t think I’ve ever said that. To me that’s John’s and that’s Gene’s-I’m not going to say that. A lot of times I’ll say “give it to him!” and John Ward used to say that some, not all the time. He also used to say “brings it past the timeline,” which I use a lot as well.
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. When Wake scores a touchdown I don’t say the same thing every time. Nor do I when Wake Forest makes a basket. Other announcers do, and that’s great. I’ve just never fallen into that, never developed that, and I’ve never really tried to. I’m 56, and hopefully I’ve got a lot more years to come-maybe that’ll develop, maybe I’ll fall into something, maybe something will happen. But as of yet that hasn’t happened. 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.
Edward: Talk about your gameday preparation for a calling a game, and the days leading up to a game. Are there certain stats you look at or do you look at film? To me maybe one of the most mind-blowing things is learning each team’s opposing players to where you know them so well every game-how do you go about learning that in such a short period of time?
Stan: To me basketball is much easier with name memorization-football I don’t even try that. I think in a football game, once you get to the second half, some of the players that touch the ball all the time-the quarterback, a receiver that might catch a lot of passes, a running back that runs it a lot-you see their number so much that I don’t memorize them beforehand, but once the game goes along that just kind of happens. It’s the same way with a defensive player that makes a lot of plays-a linebacker or somebody like that. Now for basketball it’s different. There are so few players that it’s easier, and once a few minutes of a basketball game go by you pretty much know the names and numbers. Although again, ahead of time I don’t memorize them-I never have. But I do have charts in front of me with names, numbers, all the vital stats, height, weight, hometown, season stats-all those types of things. Most of that work and prep is done way prior to the game during the week leading up to the game. I try to get the charts that I prepare done just as quickly as possible, and I’ll try to at home record a lot of games with Wake’s opponent and try to watch those games with my charts so that when game comes around it’s not the first time I’ve seen Clemson, or Duke, or Carolina, or whomever with my charts in front of me.
Gameday is fun time-that’s the time when I have the most fun and it just kind of happens. You just kind of strap in and enjoy being a part of the game. The work part of it-let’s pick football for instance-of a Saturday game comes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday doing all the work and study and reading-I try to read a lot as well, usually newspaper articles that people have written about both teams. I try to soak it all up and be a sponge, and then from all that prep take what I think is pertinent and somehow get that on my chart. With me if it’s not on my chart it’s probably not going to get into the broadcast. And then on Sunday or Monday I’ll listen back to the broadcast with my chart to see what stats and types of information that I’m using a lot and I’ll try to do more of that. What are the numbers or information that I’m not using a lot, if not why am I not using it, and if I’m not going to use it then don’t put it on my board. So that’s been a process over the, I’m sorry to say, decades now that I’ve tried to use so that pretty much everything on my chart now in one way, shape, or form is going to be used in the broadcast. It might be this week, or I might, for Wake, hold over something that I didn’t use this week and keep it for next week. So there’s a lot of give and take with that-it’s not an exact science and every broadcaster does it differently-has his or her own system. But I’m still doing a lot of things now that I did a long, long, long time ago. It seems to work for me. At least on gameday I’m comfortable with my boards and my charts, and probably from this point on I won’t change it a whole lot.
Edward: You’ve obviously seen a lot of players, both on the field and on the court, and interviewed a whole lot as well. Is there maybe one guy who has been the most interesting to get to know and talk to?
Stan: That’s a great question. There have been so many in twenty-one years. I’m not sure I could come up with just one or two. I always liked-this goes way back and almost sounds like a stock answer but-talking with Tim Duncan because that wasn’t his thing, or at least back when he was at school at Wake Forest, he would rather not do it. He would always do it-I don’t remember ever being turned down by Tim, but he just wanted to shy away from the limelight a lot. Anytime we did interview him that was kind of special. He was one of the players that I knew was going to be special. He was special in college, and I knew without a doubt that he was going to be special in the NBA. Travis McKie and I used to have a lot of fun together. Sometimes he was a challenge on purpose because we kidded one another about our NFL allegiances. He was a big Raider fan and I would kid him about that. I’m a big Cowboys fan and he would give me grief about that. He used to give me grief because for a long time I had an old flip phone before graduating out of that and getting a smartphone. With Travis there was always some give-and-take between us. Rafael Vidauretta-that’s going way back-was another favorite. I had a lot of fun with him.
Football wise, I always enjoyed interviewing Chris Barclay. Chris-at least with me-would think about his answers before he would speak, so he made them count. He was very intentional in that way. He was a special player, and he and I had a very good relationship. I follow him on Twitter still to this day, and part of that was probably because he was a coach at Marshall for a time. But there was just something about Chris that I liked and latched onto. Well, quite honestly, Riley Skinner too. He was such a special player in a special year. How could you not enjoy the give-and-take that you would have so much because he was who he was-he was the quarterback. But he was so good and had such a special career, and helping to bring some of Riley to an audience was a privilege, quite honestly. And we’re friends to this day. I knew that question would probably come up-it’s a great one. The neat thing about interviewing players at Wake Forest is that there are a lot of smart guys. With the vast majority you typically get a good interview because they’re smart young men, they’re thoughtful, and they’ve chosen Wake Forest for a reason-to get a great education. So it kind of goes with the territory. It’s hard to pick out a few, but there’s a handful that just come to mind. And there are others that I’m forgetting, but those are certainly some good ones.
Edward: If you had to pick a favorite, specific memory as a broadcaster that kind of stands out over all others, what would that be?
Stan: One at Wake Forest? Wow…one moment. (A few seconds of silence to think). Whoo. Honestly picking one is impossible.
Edward: Ok. Give me maybe a couple then.
Stan: As special as the ACC Championship was in ’06, sitting in the broadcast booth before the start of the Orange Bowl was like-and I’m an old space buff. I was fortunate as a kid to see Apollo 11 on the launch pad, which obviously was the first one that went to the moon, with Neil Armstrong. It felt like sitting on top of a Saturn rocket that night. It was really something special to be at that point because earlier in my career I used to wonder sometimes at halftime of games with Florida State if Wake Forest was ever going to be able to compete with Florida State. And then to go from some of those private thoughts-I never said that on the air and I don’t think I’ve ever said that publically until now (chuckles). I was certainly hopeful that Wake would be able to take that next step, but to be able to sit there after winning as ACC title-as an ACC champion-at the Orange Bowl, was again like sitting on top of a Saturn rocket. That was a special moment, and I’ll never ever, ever forget that, regardless of the outcome of the game. That was special. So I’ll pick that one in football.
In basketball, quite honestly, there have been so many neat moments. But my first NCAA Tournament was special. And it was my very first year here, twenty-one seasons ago with Dave Odom and Tim Duncan and that crowd-in Tucson. That was special for me. I was obviously much younger then and I had never been in that environment, ever. You know Marshall had never been to the NCAA Tournament, and still hasn’t been. And I was so naïve I thought that Wake was probably going to go to the Final Four that year. Shoot, Wake had Tim Duncan. What else could we need, right? So to be at the NCAA Tournament there in Tucson was a really, really neat thing. I remember walking into the arena and Jim Nantz was there, Kevin Costner was there for some reason-I don’t remember why since it was so long ago. It was just really neat. And each time that Wake has gone back to the NCAA Tournament it was a special feeling. And quite honestly this season, being back at the NCAA Tournament was a special feeling.
So I’ll pick those two. But there have been so many great moments, and moments that I remember fondly. All the bowl games-those are neat things. Gosh I couldn’t believe we were at the Aloha Bowl. I had never done anything like that. And to win that game the way that Wake did, with Jimmy Caldwell, the son of the coach, scoring a touchdown was pretty cool. So a lot of cool moments, but I’ll pick those two.
Edward: If you had to pick a guy who every single time he stepped out there to play-be it the football field or the basketball court-you wanted to see what he was going to do next, who would that be?
Stan: Wow…(long pause). For football I could almost go with Ryan Plackemeier because he was a special player, and was a historical player. When he left his numbers were better than anybody ever in the game. But since he was a punter and wasn’t on the field too awful much, I tell you I’ve got something in my heart for Chris Barclay. There’s something about the way he ran, the way he avoided being hit, the way he fell forward almost all the time, and the way he impacted his team. To me, he was the guy. He was special, obviously player of the year in the league, and he was something special. So I’ll go with Chris Barclay.
Basketball…whoo…you know I was only around Tim Duncan one year, and that’s too easy. Chris Paul is also too easy. And I missed the boat on him because-as I said earlier Tim Duncan was a can’t-miss great player in the NBA-I knew Chris Paul would be an NBA player, but I didn’t know he’d be as good as he has become. Now Dinger knew it, but I missed the boat on that one completely. But there was something about Josh Howard to me. I saw his whole career, and he could just do everything, and he could put his team on his back and take it to a win. Just the whole package of being a local guy, being a guy that almost left Wake Forest for other reasons, that Skip Prosser and others reeled him back in. And the way that he just battled through some things to end up being the kind of player he was was special. And I loved Josh and to see some of the things that he’s been able to do beyond his college career-both in the NBA and now coaching and trying to give back. So I’ll pick Josh Howard. He was a great player and fun to watch, and just for some of the other reasons I’ve stated I’ll pick him. There have been some great ones though. That’s another hard one.
Edward: Tell me about the season when football and basketball overlap. How do you get through that and does your approach change any to those games?
Stan: I really don't like to miss any games and do everything in my power not to. It literally is trains, planes, and automobiles sometimes, not to mention buses and cars, to get it done. Johnny Foster, a former student manager who now runs SkyTech Inc., has been a huge help providing private planes when commercial travel won't get me there in time. I can't say enough about him and how much he's helped. If I can't be in two places at once I stay with football since it started first. The prep for the games is pretty much the same, but sometimes it occurs at 20,000 feet or late at night in a hotel room. I've been able to make most every game but I'm already looking ahead and it looks like I'll have to miss hoops in the islands this November because of how the tournament schedule is. I'm disappointed but it can't be helped. It is what it is.
Edward: Last question. People obviously know you as the Voice of the Deacons. If there is one thing people could know about Stan Cotten and that either isn’t widely known or doesn’t come across on the air, what would it be?
Stan: Wow. (Pauses). Well I think…that’s a hard one. 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 that people know is that I always try to be genuine and 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!