Winona Cotter's Pat Bowlin, Dover-Eyota's Brian Harris have been in coaching for the long haul

Pat Ruff, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.
·7 min read

Feb. 23—Winona Cotter's Pat Bowlin and Dover-Eyota's Brian Harris are elder statesmen when it comes to Three Rivers Conference girls basketball coaches. Bowlin is 60 and has been coaching the Ramblers for the past 30 years. Harris is 51 and has directed the Eagles for 17 seasons.

Both coaches have had huge success. Bowlin has twice directed Cotter teams to the state tournament, and in his 30 years at Cotter has had just two teams finish below .500. Harris reached 300 wins last year and coached his team to a state championship in 2015. In eight of the last 12 years, his teams have won at least 20 games.

The Post Bulletin sat down with the veteran coaches to find out how they've developed programs with such sustained success.

How many more years do you intend to keep coaching?

PAT BOWLIN: As long as Cotter keeps asking me back. I joke with people that someday I'll show up to the first practice and the (athletic director) will tap me on the shoulder and tell me that I wasn't rehired.

BRIAN HARRIS: Haven't considered this, but probably several more years. One of my players asked if I've ever had a technical foul called on me. I told her no, but maybe in my last game I will get one, then you will know when I am done.

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What is it that keeps you going and engaged as a high school basketball coach?

P.B.: First and foremost, the tremendous young ladies I get the pleasure to coach. They enrich my life greatly. Second would be the game itself. Basketball has so much strategy, and coaching at the end of close games is both filled with nervousness and exhilaration. This year, we have won and lost a game in overtime and won on a buzzer-beater. You don't get that type of entertainment on your couch. I also love the competition of going up against the great coaches and teams in Section 1AA.

B.H.: The people you work with, the players and the competitive nature of sports all inspire me to keep coaching.

Have kids changed in the years you've been there? Is it any tougher to get through to them and motivate them now than it used to be?

P.B.: I find the kids to be very similar. I think it's society that has changed. Young people today have so many more distractions. I believe now more than ever that high school athletics is a critical component of their lives. The kids still want to be with their friends and have fun playing a game they love. For a lot of my players, they love the games, but love the bus rides even more.

B.H.: Things have changed over the years. I think you have to adapt to the changes. I have been very blessed in having players who work hard and are nice girls.

In what ways are you a better coach now than you were 10 years ago?

P.B.: I joke with my players that they now have the grandfather version of me as a coach. I am much calmer. I rarely get upset about an official's call or a bad-shooting first half. I have been around enough to know the calls even out and the shots eventually start to fall. I feel I know the game better and how to maximize our team's chance for success.

B.H.: Being so competitive, I used to take every loss so hard and second guess the decisions of the game. After watching film, some games just come down to hitting big shots in key moments. I continue to gain new information from all of the great coaches out there. We have borrowed several defenses and plays from teams over the years.

Who's the best player you've ever coached, and why?

P.B.: I'll never answer that question — too many good ones to answer. I've had a few fun discussions with my family about who would be on an all-time starting five at Cotter and that question is hard enough to answer. I know we would have a very deep bench.

B.H.: I have coached a lot of great players, ones who have and have not gone on to play in college. The best was probably Madison Nelson, because she improved so much each year. As a sophomore, she scored 303 points; as a junior 555 points and as a senior 651 points. She continued to improve in college and was playing in Europe until a recent ACL tear which hopefully she will recover fully from and continue playing.

Retirement isn't THAT far away for you. What sounds good about that?

P.B.: The only thing that will make me retire is poor health. Right now I plan on coaching and being a school principal for a long time. There will come a time when going to see my grandchildren play sports may make me consider retirement, but with James being the oldest (of four grandchildren) at 4 years old, I have some time. I would like to be an assistant coach for one of my children's teams someday. I want to be the old gray-haired guy on the bench who seems so calm and happy to be there.

B.H.: I don't think retirement is real close yet, but it sounds good. I can enjoy some other things in life.

What's your goal for your team as each new season begins?

P.B.: To be the best team we can possibly become and to have fun with the process. We have some side goals of winning the conference and getting to the final four of the section, but enjoying the ride is most important.

B.H.: Obviously, this season is a little different. Usually, we focus on improvement and getting better as the season goes on. We want to be competitive in every game we play. This year, the initial focus was just to play some games as long as we can.

Pat and Brian, what's it like going head to head with each other? What are the things you've come to respect about the way each other's teams play?

P.B.: Brian's teams always play hard and physical. Defensively, they take you out of your offense and make the entire game a scramble. Brian knows your personnel really well and will make things very difficult on your top scorers. Brian is an excellent coach; I have to prepare extra for his teams.

B.H.: It is always nice playing against great teams and great coaches. Pat is one of the best coaches in the state. When I first started coaching, I would take a look at the winning programs and see what they were doing. Pat's teams always play hard and play great defense. His teams can always shoot the basketball well and come prepared to play. Pat does a tremendous job and is one of the reasons girls basketball is so strong in the area. When we play them, we know it will come down to the last few minutes of the game with both teams playing so hard. Pat has been a big part of Cotter's success in football, basketball, and softball over the years.

When you finally do hang it up as a coach, what is the thing you know you're going to miss?

P.B.: Everything. The improvement I see from individuals and teams as the season progresses. The pregame, halftime and postgame talks. Talking with my assistant coaches on the bus ride home about the game, but mostly being a part of the players' lives.

B.H.: I will miss the big games against the top teams. I believe our section (1AA) tournament in the last 10 years — and maybe even before that — is the best in the state. This year, we have 8-10 really competitive teams, and it is fun to see the competition.