Experienced boss Cotterill attended his first match for more than four months after severe illness, including a lengthy period over two spells in hospital battling Covid-19.
His Shrews side fell to a late winner for play-off chasing Oxford in an enthralling contest where the lead went this way and that.
Cotterill remained in the directors' box at the back of the Roland Wycherley Stand throughout. He was calling the shots and his influence grew as the League One clash went on. For much of the second half Cotterill could be seen and heard barking his orders to his players and staff in the dugout.
Shrews led at half-time after goals from Matthew Pennington and Josh Vela cancelled out Elliot Lee's early opener. But James Henry and Dan Agyei struck late on to keep Karl Robinson's side within reach of the top six.
The boss drove from Bristol home and arrived at the Meadow around 1pm, where he spoke to Robinson on the pitch before calling an emotional get-together between his players to detail the ordeal he has endured over the last few months.
"To see the lads' faces when they all saw him for the first time in the changing rooms when he arrived at 1:15 was massive," assistant boss Wilbraham said.
"I could tell the gaffer was a little bit overwhelmed and nervous as well, being the first time for him in four months.
"But he was soon bantering the lads, having the craic, it was great to see him back.
"The meeting he had before the game with the lads, where he just stripped everything down, sat among the lads and spoke about the last four months, how hard it's been.
"He was just telling them to appreciate life, how hard it's been for him.
"It was a really down to earth chat, it was such a good talk, it was special to be in there and a massive lift to everyone."
Wilbraham added: "I didn't have to use the AirPods (earphones) today! I had them in just in case but I could hear him fine. It wouldn't be the case if the fans were in.
"I don't think we'll be able to keep him away now he's had the taste of that, I think he'll be involved in the remaining two games."
Cotterill has worked tirelessly from afar to help Shrewsbury secure League One safety, which they did at Blackpool last weekend, with four matches to spare.
But it was another home reverse for Town, their fourth on the spin at the Meadow, in a league campaign that has brought just five wins and 10 defeats from 22 home games – the last of which is on Tuesday against Ipswich.
Shrewsbury were boosted by the return to fitness of influential defender Aaron Pierre, who performed well. While it was also a full debut to remember for 17-year-old Tom Bloxham, the rangy academy forward who was impressive throughout.
The manager's return was, however, the major positive of the day and Wilbraham, his former Bristol City striker who had not seen his boss' face for some four months, admits it was a special occasion.
He said: "I gave him a big hug when I saw him. I'd not seen his face for four months, to the day, Jan 1 to May 5. It's been crazy."It was special to see him today and have him back.
"I never felt pressure while he was away, only a bit from the manager because he put pressure on me to produce, and he wanted the club to get safe. I liked that kind of pressure.
"But when he came back I did feel the relief, even though I didn't really feel pressure, it was strange for me today."