CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - After building one of the best football programs in Mecklenburg County history, Mallard Creek High football coach Mike Palmieri said leaving the school is one of the hardest things he’s ever done.
Palmieri, 45, told the Observer he is resigning from the program where he won three state championships to become head football coach at Denmark High School in Alpharetta, GA, a suburb of Atlanta. Palmieri will replace Terry Crowder at the 2-year-old school. Crowder retired last month to pursue private school opportunities.
Palmieri said his last day at Mallard Creek is March 6 and he’ll start at Denmark on March 12.
“I think it’s time,” Palmieri said Monday morning. “I’ve been here for 13 years and it’s a great opportunity for me and my family to move and I felt, in my heart, that it was time to go.”
Palmieri found out about the opening through friends in the industry and applied. The fact that it is a newer school and program, he said, was appealing. He started the program at Mallard Creek in 2007.
Palmieri, who said he would get a pay raise, was interviewed two weeks ago and offered the job on Feb. 9. Last week, Denmark ran background checks, fingerprinted Palmieri and awaited approval from the school board, he said.
Monday morning, Palmieri met with his Mallard Creek team in the school auditorium.
He said delivering the news was hard.
“This is family,” he said, “and anytime you leave family, it’s tough, you know? You built relationships and you won’t see these people and these kids as much anymore. But there were a lot of rumors going around and I wanted to make sure they heard it from me first. They were probably a little scared because they don’t know who will take over the job. With a coach here this long, they know the routine and what’s ahead of them, but they’ll adapt.”
Palmieri said Mallard Creek is stocked with talent and plenty capable of a state title run. He said hiring the right coach will be important.
“I want to see this program continue to be the best,” he said. “They’ve got the talent. It’s going to depend on who they bring in and that person’s vision, if they stay on staff, if they don’t. They have big decisions to make. This is a major responsibility to coach this program. It’s a big-time program and there’s pressure to win and do things the right way. Kids expect it and you have to keep it on track.”
In Georgia, Palmieri joins a school that opened in 2018 and is on pace to become one of the largest in the state. Palmieri said the school would switch from 4A to 7A, Georgia’s largest class, next season. Denmark was 5-5 in its first season. It was 7-3 last year and reached the playoffs, then lost to three teams ranked in the Georgia Top 10.
At Mallard Creek, Palmieri’s first two teams won three games combined. He never had a losing record after that.
Over the past 11 years, Mallard Creek was 136-15, including a 72-2 record in what is now the I-MECK 4A and generally recognized as the toughest conference in North Carolina by many N.C. coaches and media members. In the past seven seasons, I-MECK conference teams have reached six state championship games. Palmieri is 139-34 in his career at the school.
Mallard Creek won three N.C. 4AA state titles in a row, from 2013-15. Vance won the 4AA title in 2019.
At Mallard Creek, Palmieri has annually produced double-digit college recruits, including 15 this year. He’s coached some of Meckleburg County’s top high school football players at Mallard Creek including Jaylen Samuels (N.C. State, Steelers), D.J. Humphries (Florida, Cardinals), Marquise Williams (UNC, XFL) and Trenton Simpson (top 15 national recruit this season who signed with Clemson).
In 2015, Palmieri helped orchestrate a deal with Under Armour to become the school’s shoes and apparel provider. The school receives a budget each year to outfit coaches and players get heavy discounts on apparel and shoes. The school also gets the latest uniforms. Mallard Creek has become known for its multiple uniform combinations, something Palmieri felt made a difference.
“This day and age,” Palmieri said, “that’s a big part of building a program with social media and things like that. Kids feel confident about themselves wearing the best uniforms. It gives them a certain spark.”
Asked what he is most proud of, Palmieri said he feels like he is leaving the program in a good place.
“It’s just the way we stayed consistent over a decade,” Palmieri said. “Putting kids in college and how all these kids come back and support their own. It’s been a great 13 years here, when it comes to building that type of culture. We have a great culture. I don’t think any school in North Carolina, over that 12- or 13-year span, was that good for that long. I don’t know if it’s ever been done around here. I’m proud of that.”