Mannix About Manatee: Fond farewell for Southeast coaching icon

November 10, 2013 

The job feeler had come from one of the Manatee school district's assistant superintendents several years ago.

Paul Maechtle was asked if he might be interested in working downtown in administration some day.

Southeast High School's venerable head football coach politely passed on the idea, which, given his droll sense of humor, he probably found amusing.

Paul Maechtle, a suit?

No, thank you.

It would've meant giving up coaching, something ingrained in him since he was a kid in Wisconsin, and doing it on a familiar tableau in an annual autumn ritual so many had the privilege of sharing with him for 40 years.

"What's better," the Florida Hall of Fame coach said, recalling his decision a couple of years later, "than being out on that field on Friday nights?"

Nothing.

Especially when Paul Maechtle was pacing those sidelines.

That he won't anymore hasn't sunk in yet.

His retirement was inevitable, but not a total surprise, and it makes you appreciate those hundreds of Friday nights Maechtle and his Seminoles made so memorable for the community.

I envy those who witnessed them during his 33

years as head coach, because I only caught the last 16 of his distinguished tenure.

Yet I realized what a big deal Southeast football was under Maechtle the first time I saw his Seminoles play.

Kiker Stadium was packed and the fence around the running track was ringed by boisterous fans, some of whom were talking trash, flashing cash and making bets.

It was the 1998 spring game against Booker!

Maechtle's Seminoles made for some fun Friday nights at Kiker, that's for sure.

They did on plenty of entertaining road trips, too.

Vero Beach.

Wauchula.

Auburndale.

I can still hear Southeast fans chanting, "GAINESVILLE! GAINESVILLE! GAINESVILLE!" as the clock wound down in the state semi-final victory over Vero Beach, propelling the Seminoles to the 1998 state championship game at Florida Field.

I remember those long quiet drives back to Bradenton after galling playoff defeats, too.

Like Lake Wales.

And St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.

Yeah, those guys.

Maechtle's presence on Kiker Stadium's home sidelines conjures other memories, too.

The electricity of the Manatee game during the rivalry's heyday, bringing such an overflow crowd you ended up parking practically in Samoset.

The CSX train engineer, idling his locomotive on the tracks behind the east end zone and blasting the horn after Southeast touchdowns.

Hearing that Seminole war chant emanating from the stadium and drifting into the night air.

Watching Maechtle do the chop at game's end with the Southeast marching band, win or lose.

It was vintage Maechtle.

It exemplified his love of the kids.

His love of the school.

His love of the game.

Long after those Friday night lights have dimmed at Kiker Stadium, we'll remember and revere Paul Maechtle.

Thank you, Coach, and God speed.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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