Giving Back: Dr. Edwin B. Cottrell – Making “Coach” a Lifelong Profession

Dr. Edwin B. Cottrell (Photo courtesy of Cottrell family)

Dr. Edwin B. Cottrell is a rare bird.

Known as “Cotty” to his legions of friends, this World War II veteran has made a lasting imprint on an untold number of lives, in the world of golf and beyond. And now, at age 95, he continues to do so.

“When I first met Cotty, in the mid-1970s, it was easy to identify him as a true gentleman, professional colleague and leader,” said Dr. P. Timothy Brown, 73, retired athletic director and head men’s golf coach at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and a member of the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame. “So many lives are richer for knowing him, because he is such an inspiration.”

Pathway through War

Cottrell’s journey toward leadership and mentorship began when he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“My father was a teacher,” Cottrell said, “He believed the greatest influence you can have on people is through education.”

Born on Jan. 17, 1922, Cottrell grew up in Slippery Rock, Pa. His father, Elmer B. Cottrell, a World War I veteran, was a health and physical education professor at what then was known as Slippery Rock State Normal School, where he also coached football, basketball, swimming, tennis and golf.

“I used to caddie for my father when I was in junior high,” said Cottrell. “I just picked up a golf club to have fun, because I played all other sports.”

After high school, Cottrell headed off to college at Slippery Rock. “My sister, Eleanor, and I knew we’d be PE teachers,” he said.

In 1939, his freshman year, Cottrell met Millie Weed, also a health and physical education student. They wed in 1944 – a clear case of a three-letter man marrying the captain of the cheerleading squad.

After obtaining a pilot’s license through a college flight training program, in 1942 Cottrell enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps – “because I knew I was going to be drafted” – and graduated from Slippery Rock the following year. His mother died while he was in basic flight training.

Cotty in the cockpit, circa 1944 (Photo courtesy of Cottrell family)
Cotty in the cockpit, circa 1944 (Photo courtesy of Cottrell family)

A fighter pilot during World War II with the 48th Fighter Group ETO, Cottrell flew 65 combat missions in the European Theater of Operations. He received the air medal with eight clusters, plus unit and battle citations. After 28 years in the Air Force Reserves, he retired as a Lt. Colonel after having served as a Liaison officer to the Air Force Academy.

“I never talked about the war until twenty-five years ago,” said Cottrell, whose three best friends died during the conflict, “when veterans began dying off and I realized that young people didn’t understand what this country went through. I’ve tried to do my part to change that.” Cottrell has spoken to numerous groups, from undergraduates to historians, about his experiences in World War II, including as recently as January of this year, when he was a presenter at a meeting of the Civil War Education Association and American History Forum in Sarasota, Fla.

Teaching and Coaching: A Calling

After the war, Cottrell taught high school and coached for six years while completing his master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, then in 1952 earned a doctorate from Penn State. With a goal of teaching college, he knew he needed further training, so for three years he served as director of athletics at the Milton Hershey School, in Hershey, Pa., a school for orphan boys. In 1954, he began teaching at West Chester State Teachers College, in West Chester, Pa. (now West Chester University), where he was a coach, professor and associate dean of the School of Health, Physical education and Recreation, and where he stayed until retiring in 1980.

“Golf was just another sport until I was thirty,” Cottrell said. “I realized I couldn’t play football and basketball forever, and I found playing tennis boring, so I decided to get into golf.”

Cottrell’s professional responsibilities at West Chester included being assistant swimming coach as well as head tennis coach for five years before serving as head men’s golf coach, from 1959-1979. During this time, his teams were State Champions in 1968 and 1969, and MAC champions in 1972 and 1973. The Ed Cottrell Invitational, an annual collegiate golf tournament, is named in his honor.

In 1991, Cottrell was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) Hall of Fame, and in 2003 received the Honor Award, for “significant contributions to men’s collegiate golf.”

Cottrell also was inducted into the West Chester University Hall of Fame (2002), the Slippery Rock University Hall of Fame (2003), the Slippery Rock High School Hall of Fame (2012) and the Sturzbecker Hall of Fame (2015).

Gary Daniels, a freshman at West Chester University in 1972, was to play a significant role in Cottrell’s life, and Cottrell in his.

“I first met Cotty as a freshman on his golf team; he recruited me,” said Daniels, 63, co-founder and managing director of Creative Financial Group, in Newtown Square, outside Philadelphia. “I had a wonderful two years there, and I was the number-one man on the golf team my sophomore year.”

As a freshman, Daniels won the Middle Atlantic Championship and was invited to the NCAA Division I Championship. The co-champions that year were Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite.

“What Coach Cottrell had to do to run the golf program was fascinating,” Daniels said, “because we had no money. He was an unbelievable networker.

“He cobbled things together to make it all work. I didn’t understand it then, but I admired his persistence and spirit.

(l to r): Denny Lankford, Gary Daniels, Dr. Cottrell and Scott Vandegrift at the dedication of the Dr. Edwin Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center – March 25, 2009 (Photo Courtesy of West Chester University)
(l to r): Denny Lankford, Gary Daniels, Dr. Cottrell and Scott Vandegrift at the dedication of the Dr. Edwin Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center – March 25, 2009 (Photo Courtesy of West Chester University)

“Cotty has always been a role model to me, then and now.”

At age 19, Daniels had to quit school early because he and his wife-to-be, Claire, were expecting their first child.

“Doc was unbelievable in terms of his support in guiding me to move on to the next chapter of my life,” said Daniels. “What he taught me was invaluable.”

Daniels needed a job, so Cottrell called the local Buick dealer to recommend him.

“The dealership owner liked our golf team,” Cottrell said, “so I asked him to hire Gary.”

Today Daniels is a highly-respected financial-industry leader. He and his wife have three children and ten grandchildren.

“Cotty was an incredible coach and mentor to all of us,” said Daniels. “Our entire golf team has stayed connected through the years.

“We were the sons he never had.”

While Daniels himself is recognized today as a very successful entrepreneur, he considers Cottrell “the greatest entrepreneur I ever saw. He has a giving soul; his whole life is about helping others.”

As a way of showing his respect and appreciation, Daniels spearheaded an initiative that led to the creation at West Chester University of the Dr. Edwin Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center, which was dedicated on March 25, 2009.

“My wife and I donated money to construct the building,” Daniels said, “which now offers a whole curriculum for graduate students. There was standing room only when Cotty came to speak about World War II.”

Coaching and Mentoring with the National Golf Foundation

Cottrell was intrigued when in 1974 the National Golf Foundation (NGF) requested that coaches and teachers conduct clinics in junior high and high schools. The requirement was that interested coaches attend an NGF clinic.

“That summer, I spent a week with Bob Toski and Jim Flick, with about twenty-five other teachers and coaches from around the country,” Cottrell recalled. “It was great.”

Ed and Millie Cottrell (Photo courtesy of Cottrell family)
Ed and Millie Cottrell (Photo courtesy of Cottrell family)

Cottrell begin doing clinics for the NGF in high schools around the Philadelphia area, working with physical education teachers to show them how to encourage youngsters to get interested in golf. He continued his NGF work until he suffered a heart attack, in 1977. But his NGF affiliation and his mentorship of other coaches and teachers were far from over.

“I first met Cotty in 1983 when I attended an NGF teaching and coaching seminar in El Cajon, California,” said John Means, 61, a former collegiate golf coach, a member of the GCAA Hall of Fame and head of the John Means Golf Academy. At the time of the seminar, Means was fairly new to the college coaching ranks, in his third year as golf coach at the U.S. Military Academy, in West Point, N.Y.

Instructors from all over the world were at the seminar to demonstrate their teaching methods. Cottrell was a short-game instructor.

“I was trying to get information to gel my own growth as a college coach,” Means said. “Cotty and I developed an instant mutual respect.”

The following year, Means was invited to be an instructor at the NGF seminar. He and Cottrell worked together for quite a few years through the NGF.

“When you first start coaching college golf,” Means said, “you don’t understand that part of your job is to create men and women who are good people. You learn that on the job, but Cotty taught me that right away.

“He was instrumental in how I approach my work in trying to make players better human beings. I love the man dearly; he is like a father figure to me.

“Cotty is one of the greatest things to happen to golf since the invention of the sand wedge.”

In 1987, Cottrell received the NGF’s Joe Graffius Award for the educational development of golf.

Volunteering through Golf

In 1987, Cottrell and his wife moved from Philadelphia to the Village of Pinehurst, N.C., where he continued his involvement in golf. For 39 years, he was an instructor at Duke University Golf School and Duke University Junior Golf Camp, working for 32 years with his close friend Rod Myers (now deceased), who was the longtime head men’s golf coach at Duke, a GCAA Hall of Fame member and an Honor Award winner, and for seven years with Dan Brooks, head women’s golf coach at Duke.

Cottrell also volunteered in a rehabilitation program at First Health, a hospital association in which physical therapists worked with patients after they had suffered heart attacks or strokes. Cottrell assisted in starting a program in which therapists helped patients who were capable get their hands on a golf club, then swing their body to hit the club.

“Quite a few people who went through the program later started playing golf, even though they had never played before,” said Cottrell, who worked in tandem with physical therapist Michael Moore during the 1990s and early 2000s in Pinehurst to expand the golf component of the rehabilitation process.

Cottrell also volunteered for the Habitat for Humanity program in Pinehurst, running the cash register in the resale store every Thursday afternoon for nearly eight years.

In yet another volunteer capacity, Cottrell and his wife worked together from 2009-2014 helping disabled veterans in Moore County, N.C., joining 20 other people who met twice a month to plan fundraising efforts for the initiative.

“Millie and I tried to improve the vets’ meeting place, to encourage more vets to come in and get help, and to raise money to have more programs available for them,” Cottrell said. “We dedicated our service to Millie’s dad, Paul Weed (Dr. Paul S. Weed, DDS), who fought in World War I, was gassed and got two Purple Hearts.”

Veterans Putting Challenge

Dr. Ed Cottrell speaks at West Chester University on his experiences during WWII and how they influenced him later in life (Photo by Vinny Tennis (Courtesy of Daily Local News))
Dr. Ed Cottrell speaks at West Chester University on his experiences during WWII and how they influenced him later in life (Photo by Vinny Tennis (Courtesy of Daily Local News))

Cottrell’s volunteer spirit and efforts never abated. In 2013, he learned that over 1,000 veterans residing in Moore County were living below the poverty line. Deciding to take action, he was instrumental in helping organize the first-ever Veterans Putting Challenge. Seeking support from area businesses, he requested a minimum donation of $25, but many companies and individuals gave much more. Cottrell also sought and received support for the event in the form of product sponsors.

“We had vets who were in trouble, and we were determined to help them,” Cottrell said. “And we wanted people to step forward to help us raise funds for our fellow vets.”

The inaugural Veterans Putting Challenge, a nine-hole tournament, was held Nov. 11, 2013, Veterans Day, at Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., as part of a larger Veterans Day celebration. The Challenge featured nine foursomes, each consisting of a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as an ambulatory disabled veteran from the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Funds raised from the event, which was free and open to the public, were disbursed solely to the disabled and needy veterans and their families who resided in Moore County.

Cottrell remained involved in the Veterans Putting Challenge for three years. He and his wife moved to Hendersonville, N.C., in 2015. The event now takes place at Pinehurst Country Club.

Influence Far, Wide and Close to Home

Countless people consider Cottrell their best friend. If all those individuals were to gather, it would require a generous-sized venue with state-of-the-art acoustics and clearly-legible name tags. From former collegiate golfers to coaches to élite players, from rehab patients to veterans of multiple wars…all would vie for the chance to tell their favorite Cotty stories.

Among them would be the Cottrell daughters, Carol and Susan, who are cognizant of the profound influence their parents have had on so many people over the years. They feel fortunate, too.

“I dedicated my Master’s thesis to them for the wonderful upbringing, emphasis on education and desire to learn they instilled in me,” Carol Fisher said. “I knew I was unconditionally loved, and with that solid basis, I felt I could achieve anything I wanted.”

–Sally J. Sportsman