YORK – Rod Wotton sat back in his wicker chair, relaxing in the shade of the patio in front of the home he shares with his wife, Norma, just a short walk from the waves of Long Sands Beach.

Normally this time of year, he’d be figuring out practice schedules or depth charts for a football team. But for a rare time in the last 47 years, his life is not revolving around football.

Wotton, 72, retired from coaching last December, shortly after the season ended for his team at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Dover, N.H., one win short of a state title. That ended a career that began in 1964 at South Berwick High, and included 16 state championships in four classes at Marshwood.

He leaves as the winningest high school football coach in New England history, with a career record of 342-81-3.

So what are his plans?

“Go to games,” he said. “Go see my grandkids play.”

He has seven grandchildren, five girls and two boys, ranging in age from 12 to 17. All are active but none play football.

That’s OK with Rod and Norma Wotton, who have no problem filling their days.

Wotton plays golf three times a week and spends one day as the starter at the Links at Outlook in South Berwick. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do that,” he said.

He looks back at his career and said he was just lucky — a word no one else uses to describe his career.

“I was lucky that I was in the right places at the right time,” said Wotton, who truly dislikes talking about himself. “My chemistry and the kids’ chemistry seemed to jell. I was fortunate to have great players wherever I was. And I always had the support of the administration. They let me do what I did.”

It was really never that simple. His teams at Marshwood went 220-33-1 and at one time won 45 consecutive games, a streak that was the best in the nation when it ended in the 1987 playoffs.

Wotton was a demanding coach, who excelled at teaching fundamental football and always got the best from his players.

“He’s the type of guy you want your kid to play for,” said Ted Welch, the York High athletic director who also coached against Wotton for 10 years. “His kids loved to play for him. You could see it at Marshwood; you could see it at St. Thomas. He would be hard on them, and they still loved him. You can only do that when the kids know you care for them.”

Mike Zamarchi, the Marshwood boys’ basketball coach and an assistant football coach, played for Wotton and later coached under him as an assistant. He said Wotton’s legacy extends far beyond records.

“Never mind the wins,” said Zamarchi. “It’s the influence he had on the kids in the area, that’s his legacy. Kids wanted to play for him and he had a way of making them like him. Growing up around here, you wanted to play for Marshwood and you wanted to play for him.

“He was larger than life. Yeah, he knew how to win, but it was the respect that kids had for him. He was very tough. When we played, it wasn’t easy but I think a lot of kids became better men because of the lessons they learned from him.”

Guy Lajeunesse had the difficult task of following Wotton at Marshwood. He has learned just how much Wotton meant to the school community. “I’ve been here 18 years and I’ve met so many of his former players and I’ve never met anyone who has spoken a bad word about him,” said Lajeunesse, who is still an assistant on the staff. “It’s always positive, about what he did to make them the men they are today.”

Wotton said he changed a little over the years but remained true to his coaching tenets.

“Kids want discipline,” he said, “but they want it fairly. You don’t treat the starters any differently than you treat the kids on (the junior varsty).”

Wotton suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that results in a progressive loss of brain cells that help control movement and coordination. He was diagnosed with it nine years ago and, he said, mornings are difficult. But that’s not why he stopped coaching.

“It was time,” he said. “My enthusiasm is still there but it’s waning at times. I figured it was time to get out because I didn’t want to cheat the kids. I felt there were times the last two years I could have done a better job coaching. At least I felt that way.”

That’s hard to believe, considering St. Thomas came within seven points of a fifth Class V state championship last fall.

But that’s just Wotton talking.

“He is, was, a great coach,” said York’s Welch. “You knew what they were going to do and they knew you knew what they were going to do, and they still did it. They were always prepared.”

He takes great pride in being known as a line coach. “Football is blocking and tackling,” he said. “The team that does it the best generally wins the game. They’re the key to your football team, the kids who don’t get any recognition.

“I’d go to the linemen the first practice and say, ‘We’re going to win if you play well. We’re not going to win if you don’t play well. You’re not going to get any accolades. You’re just going to have to feel good about yourself for doing your job.’ “

Wotton, who resigned from Marshwood in 1992 and returned to coach at St. Thomas in 1996, hasn’t gone near a field or locker room since he retired. Several schools, including York, made it known he’s welcome on their staff at any time. Wotton’s home is a mile or so from York’s field.

“I just hope someday he gets bored and walks over to our field,” said Randy Small, York’s coach. “I’d love to have him on our staff.”

Small played against Marshwood while Wotton coached there. His Wildcats have annually scrimmaged Wotton’s St. Thomas teams. Beyond that he has a strong personal relationship with Wotton, who often gave him advice.

“Any time I needed to reach out and ask questions, he had the answer or tried to guide you in the right direction,” said Small.

Wotton is resisting the urge to return on a part-time basis.

“You can’t do it part time. I can’t anyways,” he said. “If I get back into it, I have to get into it full time. They say I don’t have to go to the games. But God, if you’re going to coach, that’s the best part of the whole situation, the games.”

For now, at least, Wotton has no plans to return.

He and Norma recently celebrated their 50th anniversary and have much of life to catch up on, including their visit to the White Mountains during peak foliage.

“It’s been so much fun,” said Norma Wotton. “And it’s certainly been all football.”

Now that’s about to change.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH