Mobile Christian coach Ronnie Cottrell was 85-31 in nine seasons with the Leopards, appeared in three Super 7s and coached 43 All-State players. (John O’Dell/Call News)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
MOBILE — Ronnie Cottrell, who coached Mobile Christian to the zenith of high school football in Alabama with a state championship and a 15-0 finish last season, resigned Monday to pursue college opportunities.
Cottrell told his players of his decision in a team meeting Monday afternoon and Mobile Christian Head of School Clint Mitchell said he expects to name a successor within 24 to 48 hours.
Cottrell, 65, built the Leopards into a small-school power in Alabama, going 85-31 in nine seasons and making three appearances in the Super 7 before breaking through in 2023 to win the school’s first Blue Map with a dominating 55-28 win over Madison Academy in the Class 3A finals. He also won a state championship with Godby High School in Tallahassee in 2012.
“It’s the right time,” Cottrell said. “I don’t know why people sometimes question a coach’s decision to leave when they do. I know it’s time for me. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my career. This has been my favorite coaching job here at Mobile Christian. But I want to pursue my next chapter and I can’t pursue anything unless I step aside.”
During his years at Mobile Christian, Cottrell has had offers to coach other high school teams and colleges have shown an interest in him in an off-field or administrative role.
Cottrell is adamant he was happy at the school but wants some new challenges.
“I’m just very appreciative of the opportunity I’ve been given here to coach these young men,” Cottrell said. “I love this team, this coaching staff and this school. It’s been an honor to be part of this run. Looking back, we all worked together to build something very special. I appreciate the support I’ve been given. It’s a great school.
“The most important thing is to step aside so these guys can continue in the direction we’re headed in. I’m not retiring, just stepping down to help our program keep its consistency.”
Cottrell is leaving the school with the football program in arguably the best shape it’s ever been in. Most of the starters on the state championship team are returning in 2024, although the Leopards moved up from Class 3A to 4A.
“I’m excited about next year’s team,” Cottrell said. “I hope I left it in better shape. That will be judged by other people.”
Star junior center Bo Cagle said he suspected Cottrell might consider retiring after going 15-0 last season.
“It’s still not what I expected to hear,” Cagle said. “He called me when I was in the seventh grade and said, ‘I want you to start coming to varsity practice and even dressing out.’ He’s done a lot for me. He’s a special person.”
Cagle said Cottrell built a strong foundation that will last.
“It’s in good hands,” Cagle said. “There will probably be no drop off. It will be like he never left.”
Star quarterback Damien Gatson, the MVP of the state championship game, said he was surprised by Cottrell’s announcement.
“I know it’s pretty upsetting but we came a long way and I respect his decision,” Gatson said. “I look at what he did for all of us and I feel like this is how he wanted to go out — by winning the state championship. I’m looking forward to the new coach and we’re planning to do the same thing next year.”
In 24 years as a head coach, Cottrell was 186-101 with seven career region championships at Kinston, Flomaton, W.S. Neal, Carroll, Alma Bryant, Chickasaw and Mobile Christian in the state of Alabama. His nine years with the Leopards was the longest time he stayed at one school.
The Leopards reached the playoffs every year Cottrell was their coach, going 21-8 in the postseason, 48-11 in region play and winning three region championships.
Cottrell coached 43 All-State players at Mobile Christian. In a testament to his all-around chops, 19 were defensive players, 17 were offensive and seven were kickers or punters.
Cottrell gained fame in the early 1990s as the recruiting coordinator for Bobby Bowden during Florida State’s glory years. He recruited Seminoles stars Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Peter Boulware, Peter Warrick, Sebastian Janikowski and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke.
Cottrell also served as Alabama’s recruiting coordinator under Mike DuBose from 1998-2000.
At Mobile Christian, Cottrell coached Alabama signees Deontae Lawson, Sterling Dixon and Eric Poellnitz, Arizona’s Troy Young, Stanford’s Andres Fox, South Alabama’s Jason Brooks and Keith Gallman, and Western Carolina’s Kason Lincke and Toler Keigley.
Cottrell came to Mobile Christian as a co-head coach with Tommy Wasden in May 2015, taking the job a day after he was non-renewed in a controversial move by the Chickasaw City School Board, which gave no reason for his termination. Cottrell was hired to help start the Chieftains’ program and was 4-7 with a playoff appearance in his only season there.
In 2016, under an agreement he made with the school before taking the job, Cottrell became the Leopards’ coach as Wasden moved into administration.