Prep football | Coach Marino, Palmetto Tigers perfect fit in run of playoff berths

jlembo@bradenton.comNovember 14, 2013 

PALMETTO -- Whether by email or through Facebook, everyone wanted to know if Dave Marino was going to make a move.

Paul Maechtle's decision to retire last week left a coaching vacancy over at Southeast, and people figured Marino, an assistant on Maechtle's state championship teams in 1993 and '94, as a logical replacement.

Others implored him to come back to his roots, to the first coaching job he got when he decided to settle in Manatee County.

Currently in his fourth season as Palmetto's head coach, Marino, however, is anchored on the other side of the Manatee River.

"This," he said following practice Tuesday evening, "is where I want to be."

Few coaches and programs have meshed as well as Marino has with the Tigers. And the New Jersey native sees no need to fracture a relationship set to produce a fourth straight playoff appearance Friday night in a Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinal at Tarpon Springs East Lake.

It's not just because of what's happened on the field -- Marino is the first coach to lead the Tigers to four consecutive region tournaments -- but because it's a perfect marriage between a coach who revels in the role of an underdog and a program that has experience playing it.

"I've always been the kid from the wrong side of the tracks," Marino said. "When I came to Florida, I chose to go to Southeast and be a hall monitor as a college graduate with a degree from Rutgers in economics and finance. ... I wanted to go to Southeast because Southeast hadn't won a state title, and I wanted to try and make a difference. And that's always been who I was."

It's also why he chose to be a Scarlet Knight.

"I wanted to represent my home state," he said. "(Rutgers) was the underdog."

So was Marino. After leaving Southeast, he served as an assistant at Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota and helped those teams to district championships but was passed up for one head-coaching job after another, watching while others got shots to run their own programs.

Then came Palmetto. After serving as Raymond Woodie's line coach, Marino applied for the head position after Woodie headed to Western Kentucky prior to the 2010 season to work under former Manatee quarterback Willie Taggart.

Marino was hired. And from his first day, Marino worked the "earn-your-respect" angle, telling his players that if Palmetto wanted to join the same echelon as the Manatees and Southeasts, they would have to earn it out on the playing field.

"That's motivated us so much. He told us nothing was going to be given to us," offensive limeman Brian Bembry said. "He's built this program up. ... I love it. I love Coach Marino."

Thanks in part to Marino's urging, there is now a sign on Harllee Stadium's scoreboard commemorating Palmetto's 1975 state championship, the first football title in county history.

And the Tigers nearly added to that legacy in 2011 when they reached the Class 5A state semifinals in Marino's second year.

"He's always disciplined us," senior defensive lineman Terry Collins said. "He stays on us, he makes us push ourselves, and that's what makes everybody better. I love playing for him. He stays on you a lot, makes you stay focused in school. In order to play, you have to keep your schoolwork and your grades up."

If Marino had his druthers, his playing career would have stretched far beyond Piscataway, N.J. But a knee injury suffered during his senior year snuffed out any chances of a career in the NFL.

So he did the next best thing: coaching.

"Some guys get to decide when it's over and some guys don't, and that's probably what keeps coaches in coaching," Marino said. "Guys that decide to quit when they want to quit are usually in media. They've got TV jobs and radio jobs because they don't want to do this, they don't want to be out in the grind. But the guys it gets taken from either because A you weren't good enough and you got cut, or B, due to injury ... your burning passion is still there and you've got to satisfy it somehow."

He has satisfied that at Palmetto, and he plans on sticking around long enough to at least hang another state championship sign on the scoreboard.

The march toward that goal begins Friday against an East Lake team with a 10-0 record and the No. 2 ranking in the state in Class 7A. In other words, Marino and his team are the underdogs, which is just the way he likes it.

"We cherish that," Marino said. "That is exactly who we are and we've built on."

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