Alan Dell

Maechtle a class act on and off the field

The first thing you need to know about Paul Maechtle is that you really don’t know him.

Oh, there are the two state championships, the 10 seasons with a winning percentage over .900 and enough district titles to wallpaper your favorite room.

That’s what most people will become aware of when the longtime Southeast High football coach is inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association (FACA) Hall of Fame today in Daytona Beach.

But it’s what you don’t see about the man that is most impressive.

Unless you were there, you didn’t see him going to Punta Gorda after it was ravaged by Hurricane Charley, giving his free time to fix things while working as a laborer with no compensation.

You didn’t see him visiting Fort Myers High legendary football coach Sam Sirianni in the hospital before he lost his life to cancer in 2002.

And you certainly didn’t see the pain on his face because of the indiscretions of too many former Southeast football players when they left the security blanket he provided.

You won’t see that because he won’t allow it.

Brian McKnight, who played for Maechtle in the mid-1980s and has been an assistant to him since 1992, says his character and willingness to go above and beyond for other people are his greatest assets.

“We had a former coach who was diagnosed with cancer last season. He was living alone with no family, and Paul took care of him,” McKnight said. “He drove him to Tampa for his treatments and sat with him and would go over to his house at night to make sure he had everything he needed. The only coach I would compare him with is John Wooden.”

Living in a sports world where too many coaches and players crave adulation, Maechtle shuns it. He prefers to go about his business in relative obscurity.

You might say he is his own worst critic despite a lifestyle that warrants praise.

He is a genius at X’s and O’s, but it’s in the game of life, particularly in dealing with young people, where he excels.

He refuses to take credit for the numerous football players he’s sent off to big-time colleges, though his guidance put them on the right path.

“To be inducted is an honor, but it extends way beyond one individual,” Maechtle says. “It’s a body of work that has come with a lot of contributions from a lot of people to school administrators, players, booster club people, fans and then my family for allowing me to be involved to the degree that I have been involved.”

The Wisconsin native has been to the state championship game five times, won eight region and 17 district titles that included a streak of 44 consecutive district victories.

But records are not what drive the man who just finished his 30th season as the Seminoles’ head coach.

If he does have a need, it is to know that he has made a positive impact on the lives of his former players. That is how he evaluates himself; not by wins and losses and championships, but by the off-field success of his former players.

“The most satisfaction I get comes from the players who come back and talk about some of the things they learned here,” Maechtle says. “The big thing (in coaching) is the relationships you build among the players and the coaches you worked with through the years. They are part of the family when they graduate, and when they come back that means a lot.”

At 59 years old, Maechtle has displayed a remarkable knack for being able to change on the fly. He showed that on the field when he adjusted his offensive philosophy, stressing the pass during the Adrian McPherson days, readjusted back to the run game a few years later and then implemented the spread offense.

The growth of the Internet brought about changes in player relationships and coaching strategy. But it hasn’t slowed Maechtle down or sent him off track.

He has kept up with the times and can’t hide his youthful enthusiasm when talking about all the nuances that are now available to coaches thanks to the technological revolution.

“All of the intriguing things that have happened in the computer age in regards to coaching football continue to make it exciting to coach,” Maechtle says. “But the players have changed, and you have to adjust. There are so many more distractions. Nobody writes any rules when they hand out cell phones and text messaging. It’s all new stuff, and you have to be ready for it. Now, you have high school games being shown across the country. I don’t know if I want to get into that stuff, but if you want to keep up with the Joneses, you have to do it.”

The question a lot people around Manatee County ask is how long Maechtle will continue to coach, which is the one thing he cannot answer.

“In three years, I will be 62 and am in a retirement program that ends then. But I don’t feel like I am near 62, and I don’t have to retire,” he says.

Alan Dell, sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.