BRADENTON -- Paul Maechtle, one of the most heralded high school football coaches in the state, announced his retirement Tuesday.
After 33 years as head coach of Southeast High, Maechtle will coach his final game Friday when the Seminoles play host to Palmetto. He will also step down as school athletic director later in the school year.
“We are losing an icon, and one of the greatest coaches and mentors in the state of Florida. He has meant so much to Manatee County and school football in Florida,” said Manatee High School head coach Joe Kinnan, who battled Maechtle annually in the one of the fiercest rivalries in the state.
Palmetto High School head coach Dave Marino, who coached under Maechtle from 1990-99, praised his former mentor as a person who paved the way for his own success and that of many others.
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“I learned many things from Paul, the most important being patience and understanding and working with kids,” Marino said. “He has been part of this county for 40 years and it will be different not seeing him on the sidelines next year. He pays great attention to detail and organization and structure. He was always well prepared. This (final game) will be special. This is the 20th anniversary of the first state title that we won.”
The area’s dean of coaches, Maechtle retires with one of the most heralded records in Florida high school football history.
During his reign, Southeast won two state championships, eight regional titles and 17 district championships, and went to the state championship game five times.
Under Maechtle, Southeast was one of two teams, along with Lakeland, to win 100 games in the 1990s and once went on a 44-game district win streak. He will bring a 282-105 record into his final game.
In 2009, Maechtle entered the Florida Retirement System (Drop) Program that comes to a conclusion in April, which means he cannot teach or coach for any monetary compensation for a year.
“I knew that this would be my last season, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I wanted to focus on team and not have this be a Paul Maechtle thing,” the 61-year-old coach said.
The school will honor Maechtle this Friday marking his 40th season (seven as an assistant coach). Many of his former players are expected to attend.
Ironically, Maechtle almost didn’t get the job.
In May 1981, the school hired another head coach. After the school year, Maechtle decided to go back to his home state of Wisconsin and look for another job.
The initial coach left after spring ball and Maechtle was offered the position in June, but wasn’t sure if he wanted to take it under the circumstances.
“I had my car packed to head back to Wisconsin, which I had done every summer, but I wasn’t sure I was coming back,” Maechtle said. “Then in the middle of July I said I would take the job after things didn’t seem to work out up there.”
It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Maechtle and the Southeast High football program.
Almost immediately in the mid-1980s, Maechtle started to build a prep football dynasty.
Southeast made it to its first state championship game in 1985 when it lost to Escambia led by Emmitt Smith, who would eventually become a Hall of Famer for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Seminoles returned to the state championship game in ’88 and lost to Niceville.
“That was really big for us because we want back to the state title game with an entire different group of kids three years later,” Maechtle said. “It put you into a very small group of teams.”
The program’s biggest moment came when Southeast won its first state football championship in 1993 defeating Panama Bay City and finished with a perfect record in becoming the first football program in state history to win 15 games.
Southeast began the 1994 season ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today. The Noles won another state title, but unfortunately a loss to Sarasota Riverview on a rain-soaked muddy field without star Peter Warrick prevented them from winning a mythical national championship.
“The highs are never quite as high as the lows are low, but when I see the number of kids that I coached it is very special,” Maechtle said. “This job (during the season) it takes seven days to find out if you know what you are doing and when you lose on Friday I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing; like that shouldn’t have happened.
“To win those back-to-back state titles was very special no doubt about. Making it twice the first two times to the state final was also special.”
Southeast made its last trip to the state championship game in ’98 when it lost to Miami Northwestern. It had other good seasons but in the early 2000s with the opening of Lakewood Ranch and then Braden River the school started to lose its population and it affected its football resources.
“You play the cards you are dealt with to the best of your abilities,” Maechtle said. “We have played in almost every single classification in the FHSAA and our school has been like yo-yo. The growth of East Manatee County changed a lot of things for us.”
Maechtle sent numerous players to major college programs and the National Football League. He refused to name his best player or favorite team.
The consensus best player during Maechtle’s era is Peter Warrick, who started at FSU and was the fourth overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft by Cincinnati.