Prior to his arrival at MTSU, Cothern was assistant vice president for business and finance at the University of Memphis (UM).
Cothern, a Memphis native, is a 1970 graduate of UM (then Memphis State University) with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, and he has a Juris Doctor degree (1973) from UM's Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Cothern is a licensed attorney, and he had been with the UM Division of Business and Finance since November 1973.
He and his wife Debbie have lived in Nashville since 1998, and he had been commuting to UM since that time. Cothern previously worked with McPhee when McPhee was UM's senior vice provost.
Cothern also worked with Gene Smith, who served as MTSU's interim president prior to McPhee's arrival. Smith was also UM's vice president for business and finance prior to assuming MTSU's interim presidency for a year in fall 2000.
The Cotherns have two grown children, John and Joanie.