St. Paul's Mitch Tullai, the dean of area high school football coaches with 41 years of service and 208 victories, announced yesterday that he will retire after the final game of the season next week.
"I'm not tired, I'm not weary, and I don't know what I'll be doing next year," said Tullai, 65, whose career record is 208-126.
Tullai, who will teach history for at least one more year at the Brooklandville school, told his team before Wednesday's practice.
"I know it's selfish, but I was like, 'Wow!' That's the way I felt when he made the announcement," said senior defensive end Shawn Bean. "When you think of a coach retiring after years, you think medical reasons, or that he's worn out and tired. But when we won his 200th game last year, going untied and unbeaten for the first time, to me, it seemed like he was just getting started."
Tullai is far from just getting started. After graduating cum laude in history in 1952 from Western Maryland, where he starred as a running back and defensive back, Tullai became head coach at St. Paul's in 1953.
Although he isn't sure exactly what he will do in retirement, Tullai said he plans to spend more time with his wife, Jean, and on research and long-term writing projects.
"One kid asked me, 'Why are you quitting?' And I said, 'To give someone who's got a lot of youth and enthusiasm a chance.' He said, 'But you've got all of
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that plus.' I've just had a satisfying tenure, so why not go while I still have snap in my garters?"
Those who know him say there is plenty of snap left.
"There's no question he's the dean of coaches, but he's still a 65-year-old man who moves with more enthusiasm than most 20-year-olds," said his 10-year assistant, Rick Collins. "He's a teacher of advanced placement football at St. Paul's. He's still got that spring in his step."
The announcement was met with sadness from at least one opposing coach. Severn's Jim Doyle said he'll be disappointed, win or lose, when his Admirals take the field against St. Paul's next season.
"He's had the top team in the league. We haven't beaten them in four years," Doyle said of the area's second-winningest coach, behind Poly's Augie Waibel (230). "He's the coach we all want to be, caring for the kids. You marvel at his enthusiasm."
St. Mary's coach Brad Best said: "You always know Mitch has got a very well-coached, classy team. They won't make many mistakes, and it's always going to be close. It'll be weird not seeing him on the other side of the field."
St. Paul's assistant Brian Abbott was a member of Tullai's 1982 team, which won the sixth of the coach's 10 titles.
"He always says before a game, 'Establish your credentials early.' He's always been able to get the most out of less," said Abbott.
Tullai's enthusiasm carries over into his history classes, where he annually dresses as Abraham Lincoln on the president's birthday.
"To me, it's always been a thrill to be in the classroom and on the football field," said Tullai, who has four daughters between the ages of 28 and 36.
"Football isn't exactly like war, or even life, but it can be like a tough college course, and I try to relate those things," he said. "Sometimes, it's going to be hot, dirty and grimy. And under those conditions, it takes a lot to stick with that block."
Only Tullai's compassion for others, says athletic director Mark Ruse, rivals his passion for football.
"I had a personal tragedy, and he was there to put his arm around me," said Ruse. "He's a real giving person."
School officials said it's too early to speculate on who may replace Tullai.