Paul Whittenburg, who led Hilliard football in a coaching career that spanned portions of five decades, died Thursday night at the age of 72.
The news was announced by the school’s booster organization, the Pride of Hilliard Football Club.
Leading the Red Flashes’ football squad from its early days in the mid-1970s, he directed Hilliard during a 32-year tenure that included multiple stints. His 1984 return helped revitalize a program that had slumped to 2-27 during the previous three seasons.
“Serving many years as head coach, he turned many Hilliard athletes into men on the field. A respected football coach and great math teacher, he left an impact on countless Hilliard alumni. His presence in the community, whether in sports, in local restaurants or in his church, will be greatly missed,” the club said in its announcement.
Born in Georgia, he played football at Memphis State, where he was listed at both running back and nose guard under head coach Billy Murphy before coming to Florida. At Hilliard, he helped build a small-town school — his rosters sometimes numbered 20 or fewer players — into a unit strong in football fundamentals and wins.
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Although the Nassau County school had to wait until 1997 for its first district championship, the Red Flashes were among Northeast Florida’s consistent programs from the mid-1980s, at a time when only district champions qualified for Florida High School Athletic Association playoffs. During much of his tenure, Hilliard occupied the same district as state juggernaut University Christian.
Among his noted seasons were 1985, when Hilliard went 9-1 but missed the playoffs in a three-way tiebreaker to Hawthorne and Trinity Christian; 1992, when Hilliard’s wishbone offense went 9-1 and racked up a Florida-record 5,151 rushing yards; and 1997, when the Red Flashes reached the second playoff round before losing to Tallahassee North Florida Christian.
He concluded his home head coaching tenure amid celebrations on Nov. 8, 2012 with a 21-12 win against Eagle’s View, finishing with a career record of 200-133. In addition to his Hilliard years, his career included assistant roles at Dunnellon and Charlton County as well as a 1983 season as head coach at Fernandina Beach.
Mr. Whittenburg also held various administrative positions at Hilliard, including dean of students. He is survived by three children and nine grandchildren.
A reception is planned from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church of Hilliard. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the same location, with burial in Brickyard Cemetery.
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