Coaching about as far away from Southwest Florida as you can get and still be in the same country, Jerrod Ackley took an assistant position at Lely four years ago to be in one of the nation's premier hotbeds of football talent.
Now Ackley, who started his career in his home state of Idaho, is relying on that talent to turn around a historically strong program.
Immokalee High School athletic director Linda Ayer announced Friday that Ackley will be the school's newest football coach. Ackley, 37, takes over for Israel Gallegos, who was forced to resign after going 7-13 in two seasons.
The Indians were a perennial playoff team for a decade, making the playoffs eight times in nine seasons before John Weber retired after the 2007 season. Weber led Immokalee to the Class 2A state championship in 2004.
Even though the Indians missed the postseason the past two seasons, Ackley said the program still has the caliber of players it had during its glory years.
“(NFL Hall of Fame tight end) Shannon Sharpe once said about the Broncos while he was playing for them, 'It's like handing you the keys to a Ferrari. You just have to keep the car on the road,'” Ackley said. “That's similar to what we have here at Immokalee. We have a lot of talent, I just have to make sure that talent is pointed in the right direction.”
Ackley was the offensive coordinator at Lely last season, helping the Trojans to a 6-4 record and more than 20 points per game. He also was an assistant at Lely during the 2006 and 2007 seasons before spending a year on the coaching staff at his alma mater Idaho State.
Ackley was chosen by a selection committee of Immokalee teachers and coaches, as well as local businessmen and boosters. He was hired from a pool of 85 applicants.
Ayer said the committee liked Ackley because of his experience at every level of coaching. The new Indians coach started as a Little League coach in college, and was the head coach at Soda Springs (Idaho) High School before moving to Lely.
“We were looking for someone with a special combination of a passion for football ... and who also is a good teacher,” Ayer said. “(Ackley) has a lot of enthusiasm, and we look forward to what he will bring to the Indian family.”
At Soda Springs, Ackley gained valuable experience turning a losing program around. The Cardinals didn't win a game in 2001, Ackley's first year, but made the playoffs in the coach's final four seasons.
Ayer also said she looks forward to the discipline Ackley will bring to Immokalee's program as a former United States Marine. The Indians' past two seasons were marked by off-the-field issues.
In October, football players Kovan McSwain, Joshua Edison, Deonte Clifton and Demandrea Fuller were accused of having group sex with a 15-year-old girl on school grounds. McSwain started at quarterback and running back, and Clifton and Fuller played regularly.
In May of 2008, running back Darius Deloach was arrested for an incident on school property involving a destructive device. Deloach didn't play that fall, and transferred to Dunbar, where he played this past season
“Disciplined football teams are the best teams,” Ackley said. “You're never great unless you have a lot of discipline in your program. That's going to be an emphasis to getting us off on the right foot. I want to develop a strong work ethic with the boys.”
Ackley currently teaches special education at Lely. Next year, the coach said, he will either teach special education or social studies at Immokalee.
Ackley has been married to his wife, Rishay, for 13 years, and they have a 2-year-old son, Ron.