As Wilbraham – who was still a veteran centre-forward this time last year and only entered coaching in December – prepares Town’s troops to tackle League One leaders Hull, he has taken a moment to describe the madness of the last 12 weeks, writes Lewis Cox.
The Shrews No.2 is grateful to Cotterill’s guidance. He admits many things the ill Town boss braced him for have come true, and that he would not have coped without his former Bristol City manager’s advice.
Cotterill was this week released from hospital for a second time and is on the road to recovery after a health scare with Covid-19 and pneumonia. For Wilbraham, and academy boss David Longwell and keeper coach Brian Jensen – thrust into more prominent roles – it has been sink or swim.
It goes without saying that Town find themselves in an excellent position considering the circumstances. The loss of a leader like Cotterill could have derailed the season and plunged Salop into relegation uncertainty, but it is thanks to those who have filled the manager’s void that the team are clear of those worries.
“It’s been crazy, I think I was assistant manager for 16 days and then stand-in manager for a few months, it’s crazy to be honest,” Wilbraham said. “The manager said from the very first day that it’d be a great experience for me, and it’s taught me a lot, I’ve had a lot to deal with, especially being in the middle of a transfer window when it first happened.
“I’ve learned a lot, the manager’s done really well about the things he’s spoke on the phone, how to cope with the every day things that go on, you don’t realise how many things you have to deal with as a manager.
“I think it’ll make me a better assistant manager to the gaffer when he comes back, because I know how much he has to take on board, I know the type of things I can take off him and take those problems to make him not have as much workload, because there’s so much.
“He’s guided me over the phone on how to manage my time better, manage the training days, prepare for Thursday’s training, which he’s done really well for 27 years.
“He’s really taught me the ropes from the phone. I remember Dan Udoh calling him the Professor from (TV show) Money Heist early on, and he’s really taught me everything. He’s made me aware of things before they’ve happened, so I’ve been ready to deal with them.”
Fittingly, Hull were the victims of Cotterill’s first league win as Shrewsbury boss. A shock 1-0 away win at the KCOM Stadium in December thanks to a lovely Charlie Daniels winner. Few could have surely predicted the rise that followed, before the virus ripped through Town ranks.
The form book still has today’s visitors, having won five on the spin atop the table, as the favourites. But Shrewsbury Town four months on from Cotterill’s first league win are a different prospect to the side he whipped into a solid defensive unit in those early weeks.
Town are still without key figures, captain Ollie Norburn and Aaron Pierre, while they have a decision on whether to recall keeper Matija Sarkic.
For Wilbraham, however, the craziness is set to continue for the next few weeks. Town have midweek fixtures every week until the campaign ends on May 8. Cotterill will continue calling the shots via a phone call from Bristol, only in more comfortable surroundings, back home.
“I’m finding it OK, myself and Dave Longwell have been working hard together, he’s been brilliant, we’ve been staying in the training ground all hours, speaking with the manager on the phone, having these meetings on team selections and how we can hurt other teams,” he said.
“Even though the gaffer’s only been on the phone on loudspeaker it feels like he’s been in the room. It’s been really good prep.”
Wilbraham added: “Dave is unbelievable, we’ve become really close, which the manager called early doors, we become really good friends, where we can say if something isn’t right like you’d tell a best mate you’ve known for years.
“Because we spend so much time together we’ve had to do that, it’s always healthy when you can get on like best friends. He’s a workaholic like the manager, when you’ve got people like that in your staff it’s only going to produce good things on the pitch.”