After four years out of the spotlight, Paul Maechtle is back in charge.
The 65-year-old, who won back-to-back state titles with Southeast High in 1993 and 1994, accepted Cardinal Mooney High's top football coaching position on Feb. 9. Maechtle had been an assistant coach with the program since 2014, when Josh Smithers (now at Riverview High) persuaded Maechtle to help coach Maechtle’s grandson, linebacker Robby Vassallo, who will graduate in May.
Since that time, a lot has changed. Smithers left after the 2014 season, and Drew Lascari took over, bringing with him experience from Don Bosco Prep, a national powerhouse in New Jersey. After three seasons of progress, the last one hampered in the win/loss column by the program using an ineligible player, forcing a forfeit of three wins, Lascari is gone, too. He took a quality-control coaching position at Rutgers University on Feb. 2.
Cardinal Mooney’s search for an answer didn’t take long.
“He is proven leader, mentor, and teacher,” Cardinal Mooney athletics director Bill Donivan said of Maechtle. “He is highly respected by our players, staff, and the Mooney family.”
Lascari leaves behind a lot of positives, Maechtle said, and that's one of the reasons he agreed to once again be the man in charge. It's a “calm-the-waters” move, he said. A new coach may have wanted to move away from the scheme and tempo the Cougars found comfort running, and Maechtle was not going to let that happen.
Maechtle is also close with the Cardinal Mooney community. Throughout his years of assistant work, he’s come to know the small school well. He likes the “infrastructure” in place, he said, and said it feels a lot like it did during the early years at Southeast. He didn’t want to abandon those relationships.
Maechtle found inspiration from assistant coach Sam Koscho when addressing the team on Feb. 9.
“He (Koscho) said, ‘Change is around us all the time,’” Maechtle said. “You can fight it, resist it, or you can embrace it and see it as an opportunity.”
Maechtle said part of the reason he stepped away from Southside High is the extra responsibilities he had besides coaching, like being the athletics director. He won't do that at Mooney, nor will he teach. He will simply focus on football, and that's how Maechtle likes it.
There’s short-term change, like what’s happened at Cardinal Mooney, and there’s long-term change. There has been a lot of the latter since Maechtle’s state title runs in the '90s. Coaches today have to deal with technology, both football-related gadgets and things such as social media. Learning how to navigate those things will be a different challenge for Maechtle, but he's ready and willing to learn. In fact, that's part of what keeps him coming back. He still goes to coaching conferences to see the latest and greatest schemes. The challenge of working with a staff to put together a deadly offensive playbook while figuring out an opponent’s attack doesn’t get old, he said.
Maechtle also knows he can’t coach forever. He already retired once, leaving Southeast High in 2013, and was serious about it before Smithers got him “hook, line and sinker,” he said with a smile. He had his right knee replaced in January. He doesn’t yet know how his body will react to coaching again. He also doesn’t know if Ben Hopper, the Cardinal Mooney principal starting in July, will want to keep him on staff. Right now, Maechtle is awaiting spring football practice, and that’s enough.
He’s not concerned with replicating Southeast’s historic run (though if that happens, no Cougars would be upset). He just wants to help the kids he’s come to know so well, for as long as he can.
“All I’ll ask the kids to do is improve,” Maechtle said.”We’ll see what the end results are.”