On the football field, the Immokalee High School football team had an unforgettable run to the Class 5A state championship game.
Off the field, coach Jerrod Ackley had an unforgettable run of problems with parents and others, prompting him to resign.
Ackley, who guided the Immokalee Indians to an 11-4 record and state runner-up status, turned in his resignation from coaching Monday morning. The school immediately advertised the open position on the Florida High School Athletic Association website.
Ackley remains, for the moment, employed at Immokalee High as a special education teacher.
“There were some members of the community who hadn’t accepted me and wouldn’t accept me,” said Ackley, who did not want to name anyone. “Their kids were still in the football program. Rather than subject myself to another season of turmoil, I just thought it would be best to move on.
“It was an ongoing thing from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”
Even as the Indians consoled one another in the aftermath of the 21-20 Class 5A state title game loss to Tallahassee Godby on Dec. 14 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Ackley said he knew he had coached the Indians for the last time.
Mistakes in that game, Ackley said, were a microcosm of a regular season full of distractions.
On Sept. 7, for example, a few Immokalee fans berated the Indians coaches from the stands from the Naples High visiting bleachers. A shouting match resulted in several players and an assistant coach running into the stands to confront those unruly fans.
“I had known that,” Ackley said of his impending resignation.
“It was a season to learn from all the way around. For everyone. It was a season I’ll never forget, but I knew by the end of it that it was time to go. It was too much turmoil. Too much adversity.”
Ackley had a 5-6 record in 2010, an 11-2 finish in 2011 and 11-4 last season for a 27-12 record at the school.
“We’re going to do a thorough, thorough search,” Immokalee athletic director Tony Allen said of finding Ackley’s successor.
“We feel the kids deserve it. We’re going to take as much time as we need to, to find the right person.
“People are doing this type of thing at every level. You had a coach playing in the national championship game who interviewed for another job. So it’s not really a surprise. We just want to do the best for our kids.”
Immokalee principal Mary Murray said the school received five applications within the first hour of posting the opening.
“We’re expecting a number of applicants,” Murray said. “We graduate a number of kids, but we have a lot of talent coming up. We are hoping to have a head coach in place by March 1. We’ve got a good program going. We want the new coach to take over where coach Ackley has left off.”
Murray said she did not discuss at length with Ackley his issues with the people in the community who did not support him. She said she was confident things would work well in favor of the next coach.
“We would spend a lot of time introducing him to the community, to the coaches and players,” Murray said of Ackley’s successor. “We want the transition to be a smooth one. We’re a very close-knit community. We want to make sure that people are on board with the new coach.”
Ackley said his well wishes for Immokalee’s returning players factored into turning in his resignation now, giving the school three full months to find a new coach before spring practices begin. He said he would look to relocate closer to his native Idaho, targeting Texas as a potential destination.
“I really care about the kids,” Ackley said. “I want to see that they’re put in the best situation they can be in.”
Ackley, 40, has two sons, ages 4 and 1.
“One of them is about ready to start school,” Ackley said. “I want to create some stability for them.”
John Weber, who coached at Immokalee for 10 seasons in 1998-2007, said the school should hire a new coach who has thrived in similar surroundings to Immokalee, a low-income, close-knit, farming community.
“They need a guy who’s going to have some discipline, who’s not afraid to say something,” Weber said. “And they need a guy who’s going to get out there in the community and is going to be visible. There are great kids out there. You have to be honest out there, but you’ve got to be tough.
“They’re always going to have enough talent out there to be a winner.”
Weber, 68, said he doubted he would apply.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s not likely. I’ll think about it. Sometimes you let things play the way they are. It’s not a good time for me to think about doing something like that.”