Honoring a great coach

Coach Cotant inducted into WCA Coaches Hall of Fame

Robert Galbreath
Posted 6/6/24

Educator and coach Rick Cotant was named by the Wyoming Coaches Association as a posthumous inductee into the Coaches Hall of Fame this spring.

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Honoring a great coach

Coach Cotant inducted into WCA Coaches Hall of Fame


TORRINGTON – Coach and teacher Rick Cotant showed up for the opening day of outdoor track practice at Gering High School sporting a brand new pair of running shoes. The sneakers were a luxury for a Nebraska teacher on a first-year salary fresh out of nearly two years of service in the U.S. Army.

One of the athletes present for practice that day lacked proper running shoes. Cotant happened to wear the same shoe size as the young man. The new coach unlaced his new trainers, removed them and quietly handed them to the athlete to wear for the remainder of the season, no questions asked.

“Rick was very big into helping kids and families, especially those who were in need monetarily or went under the radar,” said Walt Smith, a teacher and coach at Torrington Middle School (TMS). “That was who he was. He would give you the shirt off his back if he needed to.”

In addition to his role as an educator, Cotant coached cross country and track at Torrington High School (THS) for 21 years. Following a brief retirement, Cotant returned to Goshen County School District No. 1 as an interim administrator and signed on as an assistant track coach at Lingle-Fort Laramie (LFL) High School for five seasons.

Cotant’s storied and successful career as a coach was recently recognized by the Wyoming Coaches Association (WCA) with the announcement this spring of Cotant’s posthumous induction into the WCA Coaches Hall of Fame.

Cotant’s induction is “extremely well deserved,” said Marv Haiman, retired principal at TMS who worked with Cotant for nearly 30 years.

“Rick epitomized the best of the coaching profession,” Haiman added. “He helped kids learn, grow and succeed regardless of whether they were the state champion or a runner who finished close to last in an event but hit a new PR.”

A ‘special’ coach

Only a handful of coaches from across the state are inducted into the WCA’s Hall of Fame each year since the inception of the award in 1984, Smith explained. Smith is the WCA executive director and former president of the WCA Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame is reserved for an accomplished group of veteran coaches with careers that span decades of service. To gain admission into the Hall of Fame, a coach must accrue 350 points in three categories – experience, success and professional honors and service, Smith said.

Inductees need to collect 200 points in the experience category. Coaches receive 10 points per season as a head coach and five as an assistant and are therefore required to serve at least 20 years as a head coach or 30 years as an assistant to enter the Hall of Fame, Smith added.

Success encompasses 100 points and is based on regional championships, state runners-up and state titles earned by a coach’s team over the course of their career, Smith continued.

The final requirement involves 50 points for professional honors and service and includes awards like the WCA’s Coach of the Year or participation in organizations like the WCA, the Wyoming High School Activities Association or national coaching groups.

“It takes a pretty special coach to get into the Hall of Fame,” Smith said.

Path to success

Cotant set his sights on a career in coaching and a teaching long before he graduated from Gering High School in 1966.

“Education has always been in Rick’s DNA,” Rick’s wife, Marilyn, said. “He had a real knack for building relationships with students and athletes.”

Distance running was also an integral part of Cotant’s makeup, and he competed on the track and cross-country teams at Gering High School. Cotant garnered the Nebraska state cross-country title as a junior and medaled with his teammates in the 4x400-meter relay at state track, Marilyn noted.

Marilyn and Rick’s sons – Casey and Brian – medaled in mid-distance events throughout their high school careers and a grandson in Buffalo placed fourth in the 800-meters a few days before Marilyn’s interview.

“We have a long-standing tradition in distance running,” Marilyn added.

Cotant attended Chadron State College and graduated in 1970, followed by service in the U.S. Army and a 14-month deployment to Bitburg-Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.

Gering High School hired Cotant as a P.E. teacher in 1972 after he received his honorable discharge. For the next 13 years, Cotant taught in Gering while coaching girls’ basketball for a year and serving as head cross-country coach for over a decade.

Under Cotant’s guidance, the Gering girls’ cross-country team captured the 1984 state title.

That same year, Cotant earned a master’s degree in education administration from Chadron State College. Marilyn took a position as director of career assessment at Eastern Wyoming College and the family relocated to Torrington in 1986.

Cotant accepted a job as the assistant-principal and activities director for Torrington Middle School where he remained for nearly 30 years.

Coaching beckoned and Cotant snapped up a position as an assistant cross-county and track coach at Torrington High School. Cotant’s coaching tenure at THS spanned more than two decades and included multiple runner-up trophies, six boys and girls state track titles and the 1996 boys state cross-country championship.

Cotant’s “retirement” in 2014 lasted less than a year before he returned to the classroom and the sports field, Marilyn said. Cotant served as interim principal at Lingle-Fort Laramie (LFL) High School, worked one-on-one with an autistic student for two years and was the interim dean of students at Trail Elementary from 2022-2023.

Cotant also returned to coaching and joined the LFL track staff in 2016 as an assistant and helped the team secure three state titles.

“Rick has done it all during his career,” Marilyn said. 

Valuing every child

Early in his career as activities director at Torrington Middle School, Cotant used his own funds to purchase tee-shirts for each athlete in school sports. The shirts contained a simple slogan – “play the game with class.”

Cotant also nominated an outstanding athlete after each sports event to receive a player of the game award. The award encompassed much more than identifying the participant with the most volleyball kills or 3-pointers on the basketball court, Haiman explained.

“The player of the game award was not always for the athlete with the best stats, but the kid who truly deserved the award or needed positive support,” Haiman said. “It was not about being the best athlete out there, but being the best you could be.”

As assistant principal, Cotant initiated what was called “Mr. Cotant’s Snack Shack.” The shop opened throughout the school day and provided an opportunity for students, particularly those struggling with hunger, to get a free boost of healthy food. Rick and Marilyn also established the Backpack Program in Torrington to distribute healthy meals to families in need over weekends.

The GCSD1 Board of Trustees renamed the Backpack program “Cotant’s Totes of Hope” during a May 14 meeting.

“Rick valued every child, particularly at-risk students,” Haiman said. “Rick always helped kids succeed.”

Cotant’s emphasis on class, support and caring extended to his coaching philosophy.

“Rick did everything he could to support athletes, whether they were the best runners on the team or a struggling beginner,” Haiman said. “It didn’t matter if you were a state champion or the last runner crossing the finish line. Rick made you feel like you were the most important member on the team.”

Athletes thrived under Cotant’s encouraging guidance, Haiman added, and were more than willing to go the extra distance for their coach.

“Rick was one of the most positive, motivating people I have ever been around,” Haiman said. “He was proud of all of his athletes and was tremendously proud of his boys (Casey and Brian).”

Extraordinary leadership

Most of Smith’s 40-year career teaching computer science at TMS and coaching volleyball, basketball and track was spent under Cotant’s leadership.

“Rick was supportive and encouraging,” Smith said. “He was a real mentor. Rick had high expectations for teachers and coaches, but you could always talk to him and his door was always open.”

Cotant encouraged all students to go out for school sports and maintained a no-cut policy regardless of the number of athletes who showed up on the first day of practice.

“Coach Cotant found extra games for kids and did anything he could to make sure every kid could participate,” Smith said. “He was always recruiting athletes at the middle school and high school.”

Cotant single-handedly created a cross-country running program at TMS and designed the course for the first meet.

Cotant was a proponent of professional development among his coaches. The former TMS activities director paid membership dues for each middle school coach to remain active members of the WCA and paid all expenses for his staff to attend educational clinics on sports.

“It was important to Rick for coaches to stay current in the knowledge of their sports,” Smith said.

Cotant possessed an extensive knowledge of all sports, not just track, Smith added, yet he was always willing to learn.

“(Cotant) was not only a leader, but also a student,” Smith said.

Cotant dedicated evenings and weekends to education and activities at Torrington Middle School year-round, Smith noted. Smith described Cotant as “very organized,” particularly when it came to planning tournaments or lining up officials for games.

“Rick had everything in place a year in advance,” Smith said.

Smith attributed Torrington’s “rich history” in outdoor track and field to longevity among coaches in the school district. This included Cotant’s 26 years as a coach in the school district and his tenure as an activities director.

“(Cotant) was a contributing factor in coaches coming back for the long term,” Smith said. “He was good to you as a coach, teacher and person.”

The induction ceremony for Coach Rick Cotant takes place at the Ramkota Hotel in Casper on July 19.