I was sitting at the kitchen table in my sister’s house in Fort Dodge Sunday morning, kind of moping around about the thunderstorm that cut short the ZZ Top concert at the Harlan Rogers Sports Complex there the night before.
Then my sister said something that leaves you with that sinking feeling in your stomach, as we were discussing the severe flooding in Des Moines that we had seen on the news late Saturday night.
“You might know the guy that was swept away and died ... Larry Cotlar?” she said.
Larry Cotlar! THAT Larry Cotlar?
Like so many Iowans who heard the news Sunday morning, I was stunned.
Cotlar and I began our media careers about the same time. His start in talk radio in Des Moines was 1981, one year after I started working at the Atlantic News Telegraph. So, I can’t possibly count the number of times we were working at the same event, whether it was a high school state tournament or a college football or basketball game.
One of my most vivid memories of “The Cot Man” was walking behind him down the ramp from Hilton Coliseum one night after an Iowa State game. He was cackling with a colleague about his interview with Johnny Orr after the game.
Orr was a hoot with anyone in which he shared a conversation. But, when it was a pro like Cotlar who could cleverly guide an interview, it was often something special.
When anyone asked Cotlar for interview questions in advance, he declined. Not because he was a jerk — because he was actually the nicest man in Iowa sports media — but because he wanted it to be a free-flowing conversation. He wanted it to be like they were sitting up to a bar together to share a few stories and laughs. And, he wanted to form follow-up questions by truly listening.
Also, what other sports broadcaster made a habit of regularly interviewing professional wrestling stars? Cotlar loved the storylines and entertainment aspect of WWF and (beginning in 2002) WWE, and hosted several live events in Des Moines with Scott Casber, the PA announcer of the Iowa Barnstormers.
Cotlar was most recently the voice of the Drake men’s basketball team, and had a weekly sports show on KRNT AM 1350 in Des Moines. But, over his long career he had many different roles in the central Iowa radio market.
He and Mike Newell started the concept of the Sound Off postgame radio show on WHO back in the 1980s.
His “Cotlar and Company” show ran on KXNO-AM 1460 from 2001 to 2009. He also appeared on a noon-hour show with KCCI’s Andy Garman on 1700 AM KBGG for five years. He had a highly-publicized dust-up with KXNO colleague Marty Tirrell in 2009 that led to those two and producer Geoff Conn losing their jobs after the profanity-laced tirade during a commercial break went over the air by mistake.
But, by all accounts, Cotlar was guilty only of responding to what seemed like an unprovoked verbal attack.
Cotlar started broadcasting Drake basketball games, originally with Drake legend Dolph Pulliam, in 2005. They were together for that historic 2007-08 season, a year after Cotlar was named Iowa Sportscaster of the Year.
Sunday’s news was especially devastating to the Drake community.
Cotlar’s 2015 book, “The Biggest Rolodex in Sports” highlighted his interviews with some of the major figures in national sports, as well as Iowa icons such as Jim Zabel, Pulliam and Hayden Fry.
Cotlar’s funeral was today at Temple B’Nai Jeshurun in Des Moines. Pulliam was one of the eulogists.
Left behind after Saturday’s tragedy were his wife, Deb Brewer-Cotlar, and sons Zac Couture and Zachery Brewer.
A moment of silence was held when Waukee hosted Ankeny Centennial in freshman softball Monday. Cotlar was a busy umpire in the metro area and was scheduled to umpire that doubleheader.
From media accounts of the flash flood incident, Cotlar was driving the family’s minivan that stalled in water on a street just a few blocks from his house. On KXNO Monday, a colleague said his wife was also swept away for a time in the rushing water after stepping out of the vehicle, but became lodged against tree, which allowed her to regain her footing and make her way to higher ground.
Cotlar was not as fortunate as he tried to exit and escape the immediate danger. Knowing Larry as so many of us did, he was likely making his way around the vehicle to make sure his wife was getting to safety.
Around 12:40 a.m. Sunday, first responders found Cotlar, 66, deceased, several blocks away from the original call more than three hours earlier near the intersection of 50th Street and Twana Drive on the city’s west side.
Cotlar may not have been at full strength. He had recently been treated for prostate cancer. Yet, he was upbeat about the outcome and looking forward to expanding his work for Drake University.
Cotlar was radio color commentator for the Iowa Barnstormers, who are playing for a championship Saturday night at Wells Fargo Arena. Team officials have announced that $30 tickets will be sold for $15, and $5 from each ticket will go toward expenses incurred by the Cotlar family, whose home was also damged by flood waters. Go on the link online on the team’s website, or call 515-633-2255, to obtain the discount tickets in a partnership with KXNO. Also, Cotlar’s book will be for sale at a table behind Section 124.
If the arena is packed Saturday night and the place is jumping during a Barnstormers’ United Bowl championship performance, you can almost imagine Cotlar looking down with that genuine grin of his.
The Iowa sports community will miss Cotlar, who always thought there was sunshine on the other side of a dark cloud.
In this case, let that ray of light be a lesson to turn around, don’t drown. If his story somehow saves a life in the future by someone exercising caution, Larry Cotlar will continue to do what he loved — helping people.
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