Twenty-one state championships over nearly five decades as a high school football coach makes picking favorite memories an almost impossible task.
Former Marshwood of Eliot coach Rod Wotton can attest to the struggle inherent in that challenge.
“I probably have a lot of them, but I can’t think of any,” said Wotton, who has emerged from a field of 32 candidates as the Bangor Daily News’ “Maine’s Greatest High School Football Coach of All Time.”
Readers cast more than 39,000 votes across five rounds in our online bracket, with Wotton topping John Wolfgram — the former coach at Madison, Gardiner, South Portland and Cheverus of Portland — in the final balloting with 76.6 percent of the vote.
Wotton’s road to victory also included “wins” over Mark Hackett of Bangor, Dick Mynahan of Lisbon, the late Harold “Tank” Violette and Earle “Pete” Cooper of Lawrence of Fairfield in the semifinals.
Wolfgram and the late Mike Landry of Biddeford were the other semifinalists.
Wolfgram and Landry both were assistants to Wotton on the West coaching staff at the inaugural Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic, the annual summer all-star game featuring the state’s top seniors from the previous season. The West won the game.
“I didn’t have to do much,” recalled the 81-year-old Wotton, who resides in York. “That was a great staff. It was a lot of fun.
“Mike or John probably should be sitting here and not me,” he added. “I don’t figure I’m any better than they are.”
Wotton guided Marshwood to 17 state titles between 1966 and 1992 while becoming the only Maine high school football coach to capture gold balls in all four classes — all at the same school.
Combined with 15 subsequent years and four more state-championship runs at St. Thomas Aquinas of Rochester, New Hampshire, he retired in 2010 as the winningest high school football coach in New England with 342 career victories.
“I always tried to treat them all the same,” Wotton said of his players. “All I asked the kids to do was give me all you’ve got. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Wotton was a three-sport athlete at Spaulding High School in Rochester, New Hampshire, who went on to graduate from the University of New Hampshire in 1961.
He began his coaching career as an assistant at South Berwick High School that fall and a year later became that school’s head coach.
Wotton led the team to his first state championship, in Class D, in 1966, the same year the school moved to neighboring Eliot and became Marshwood High School.
Wotton was a math and physical education teacher at Marshwood until 1994. He coached the Hawks to state titles during three different decades, the last one coming in Class A in 1989.
Marshwood also carved out a 45-game winning streak that ended during the 1987 playoffs, one that was the longest in the country at the time.
He stepped down as Marshwood’s head coach after the 1992 season.
“The moving up from Class D to Class A was because he wanted more competition to make the kids work harder,” said Norma Wotton, Rod’s wife of 60 years. “He thought they could do it, and they did.”
A likely key to Wotton’s coaching success was his consistency. One example was the way his teams played offensively from year to year.
“It was very close to the same all the time,” he said. “We called it a garbage offense because we threw a little bit of everything at you.”
Wotton coached briefly as an assistant at UNH before returning to the high school ranks in 1996 at St. Thomas Aquinas. There, his teams captured four more championships, the last one coming in 2006, 40 years after his first at Marshwood.
Wotton compiled a 342-81-3 overall head coaching record, including 220-33-1 during his time at Marshwood.
“I always said my chemistry matched the kids’ chemistry,” he said. “I told the kids that when they won, they weren’t as good as they thought they were and when they got beat, they weren’t as bad as they thought they were.”
Wotton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the early 2000’s but continued to coach until retiring after leading St. Thomas Aquinas to the New Hampshire Division V state final in 2010.
“I’m not ready to play football, that’s for sure,” he said of his health status. “With the help of my wife I’m getting along pretty good.
“I do all right as long as I do what she tells me.”