Less than a year ago, Earnest Graham took the North Fort Myers High football job and said he planned to be with the program for the long haul.
On Friday, Graham resigned.
“Coach Graham has submitted a letter of resignation for next season,” according to a statement by the Lee County School District. “However, he still has many commitments to his North High team and he will continue to be a presence on the campus for the next several weeks.”
According to district spokesperson Amity Chandler, North Fort Myers administrators will not comment on his resignation until after the Red Knights football banquet. Chandler did not know the date of the banquet.
Attempts to reach Graham by cell phone, at his Fort Myers insurance office and at the high school football field were unsuccessful Friday.
North Fort Myers joins Lehigh, Immokalee and Barron Collier as area schools looking for a football coach. Barron Collier’s application deadline passed earlier this week. The district statement added that the possibility of Graham resigning to coach at another school “cannot be confirmed at this time.”
Legendary North Fort Myers coach Ron Hoover, whose 18-year run is the longest in the school’s history, said he heard that Graham was leaving to go to Lehigh.
“I don’t know whether that’s for sure,” he said. “I heard he was gonna go to Lehigh and take the whole staff with him and everything he wanted was going to be given to him.
“I was hoping Earnest would stay four, five years. That was his intention when we first talked. I wish him good luck wherever he goes. I think he’ll be successful if he stays with it. He was learning on the job. Coaching (Class) 5A football, that’s a tough deal to come into.”
When reached by The News-Press’ media partner WINK Friday morning and asked about the Lehigh opening, Graham said, “I can’t comment on that.”
Lehigh officials said its position remains open and would not speculate on candidates.
The 34-year-old Graham, a Mariner High graduate who spent five seasons as a running back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led the Red Knights to a 5-5 record in his first and only season with the team.
“It was fun,” said linebacker Colton Ward, who completed his senior season. “We could’ve done better but it wasn’t Earnest Graham’s fault. He brought excitement, positive energy. It was fun, the atmosphere, everything.”
Graham said at his official introduction as North’s coach on Dec. 12, 2013, he planned to be a fixture on the Red Knights’ sideline.
“This was something I considered and mulled over,” Graham said at the time. “It’s not about the X’s and O’s. I want to create a winning environment.
“You see where the path takes you. I surely wouldn’t do this if I weren’t planning on doing it for a long time. My calling has always been football. It’s my ministry, you could say. It’s not about the glory. I want to develop young men to be positive influences in their community.”
North Fort Myers High student Maria Quinn, who attends every home game, said players told her they really liked the job Graham was doing.
“Since he came the team got better,” she said.
Graham’s departure disappointed her.
“He just got here,” she said. “Everyone gets here and leaves, administration, too. Everyone comes and goes.”
— The News-Press staff writer Dan DeLuca contributed to this report.