BRADENTON -- Paul Maechtle set up his computer early Thursday morning figuring he would need it to help pass the time.
Maechtle sat in a VIP area set aside to allow people to visit him on his next-to-last day as Southeast High athletic director.
The visitors never stopped coming, and Maechtle never needed the computer.
After four decades at the school and the Noles head football coach since 1981, Maechtle's only error in judgment was he underestimated himself.
If there is one lesson he can pass on to others, it's never burn any bridges.
If Maechtle was the type who did, he probably never would've won two state titles and been recognized as the one of the best football coaches in state history.
Maechtle was an assistant coach for seven years at Southeast when then-Principal Patricia Lucas decided to hire a person from outside the area as the school's new head coach. It caused discontent in parts of the community and among coaches at the school.
The new coach left after three weeks, and John Kiker was named interim head coach until the school year ended.
Woody Woodward, Southeast head
coach for six years prior to the coaching change, recommended Maechtle as did Kiker.
"I didn't know one coach that didn't want him. Myself and John Kiker went to the principal and recommended him," Woodward recalled. "Maechtle was a great football mind, a good person and an outstanding teacher. I was very disappointed when he didn't get the job. I told Dr. Lucas he will make you very proud, but she hired someone else."
Maechtle said he was offered the job on the last day of the school year, but didn't accept it. He had his car packed to go back home to Wisconsin and to Illinois to interview for football coaching jobs in high school and college.
"I told her (Lucas) that I didn't know if I would be back. If I had gotten a job up there, I don't believe I would've returned here," Maecthle said. "I was hurt that I didn't get the job, but I wasn't mad. From the whole experience, I learned never to burn bridges. On the last day of school she came up to me and said it's time I hire you to be the head coach."
While Maechtle wasn't mad, a lot of people in the community were upset.
"Paul was dejected. He had put his heart and soul into coaching," Woodward said.
Maechtle's first team was 5-5 and it went 7-3 in his second season. In his third year, he went 10-2 and made the playoffs. It started a run that included a state title game appearance in 1985 and two state titles in the 1990s.
"When I look back at that whole thing and how I got hired, I think patience; don't burn bridges when things don't go right," Maechtle said. "There is no sense in getting upset. I went about my business and kept working hard. I didn't think I would stay this long, but we got on the treadmill and things started going well."
Maechtle's journey to Southeast was partly the result of him following boyhood baseball heroes such as Joe Adcock, Henry Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Frank and Joe Torre and Warren Spahn.
"I knew about Bradenton from the fact that the old Milwaukee Braves trained at McKechnie Field," Maechtle said. "While they were training here, I was at home in Wisconsin on a shoveled driveway and I was listening to the radio broadcast. I knew about Bradenton from that so on a whim said, 'OK, I'll send a letter to Manatee County.'"
At the time, Bayshore High was opening, and the school district needed teachers. Maechtle paid his own way to the interview. He was offered a job here and at a middle school in St. Louis, which would've forced him to go to football practice an hour late. It made his decision easy.
Even then, Bradenton was a big change for Maechtle, who grew up in Waubeka, Wis., a town of 300 people about 30 miles from Milwaukee and 90 miles from Green Bay. His father owned the local grocery store and worked long hours, instilling in his son a strong work ethic.
His success on the field brought Maechtle a lot of pride, but the real enjoyment, he says, comes from the relationships he formed.
"To see a 16-year-old student, who is not necessarily doing everything right, become a 26-year-old grown adult with a good job, is rewarding," Maechtle said.
Things were not always roses for Maechtle. He took the success of his players seriously after they graduated from Southeast, and you could see his pain when Peter Warrick and Adrian McPherson, arguably his two best players, were caught up in scandals that gained national attention at Florida State.
"Those are tough things to go through, but times have changed. There so many more distractions today," Maechtle said.
One of Maechtle's most difficult times came when he had to deal with the death of former player Kevin Covington, who was shot down in 1994 at Hutchinson Community College in a senseless act believed to be a case of mistaken identity.
"Losing Todd (Williams) at a young age, and all the coaches, was very hard," Maechtle said. "You stay at one place a long time, and you create a long group of relationships. Unfortunately you lose some of those along the way."
At 61 years old, Maechtle doesn't want to close the door on coaching, but he said he is looking forward to watching his two grandsons play high school football in Sarasota County.