Coaching changes: Strickland leaves Fitzgerald; Sprayberry hires; Cokely back in Georgia

Fitzgerald has played in the Class AA championship game the past two seasons. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Fitzgerald has played in the Class AA championship game the past two seasons.
(Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Three Gwinnett County football programs made big news last week when they hired head coaches, but none of those topped what finished off a newsworthy week – the decision of Fitzgerald coach Jason Strickland to take the Pierce County job.

Strickland, who led Fitzgerald to Class AA runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2016, told WALB-TV in Albany that it was the toughest decision of his career and indicated that it puts him and his wife closer to family. Blackshear is in southeast Georgia near Waycross. Strickland is from Clinch County.

“This is a really good opportunity with some unique challenges,” Strickland told the TV station. “But I love the vision they have for the future.”

Strickland’s record at Fitzgerald was 54-14 in five seasons. He previously was head coach at Lamar County, where he inherited a program that was 1-9 the season before he arrived and went 12-1 in Strickland’s final season there in 2011.

Strickland will replace Sean Pender, who took the Brunswick job. Pender was 54-18 at Pierce, a program that could never sustain success until Pender arrived.

The Gwinnett County hires went this way:

Peachtree Ridge picked Norcross assistant Reggie Stancil. It was reported on Tuesday that former  Peachtree Ridge coach Mark Fleetwood was hired as head coach of Huntsville High in Alabama.

North Gwinnett hired Mill Creek defensive coordinator Bill Stewart.

Collins Hill hired Centennial head coach Lenny Gregory.

Here are some other hires that took place in the past week:

*Sprayberry hired Etowah defensive coordinator Brett Vavra, a Sprayberry alumnus, to replace Billy Shackelford, who took the East Paulding job. Vavra is a former Sprayberry linebacker, 2000 graduate and member of the school’s athletics hall of fame, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

*Tim Cokely, a former head coach at Colquitt County (2005-07) and greater Atlanta Christian (2000-11), was hired at White County to replace Bill Ballard. Cokely, most recently at Leon High in Tallahassee, Fla., has a 185-73 career record and won state titles at North Florida Christian.

*Mount Zion of Carroll County promoted defensive coordinator Brad Gordon to replace the retiring Keith Holloway. Gordon has been with Holloway the past five seasons, during which Mount Zion has gone from 0-10 finishes in 2010 and 2011 to a 35-20 record since.

Off-season hirings:
Appling County hired Jon Lindsey to replace J.T. Pollock
Bradwell Institute hired Russ Couch Greg Hill
Brunswick hired Sean Pender to replace Larry Harold
Buford hired John Ford to replace Jess Simpson
Camden County hired Bob Sphire to replace Welton Coffey
Campbell hired Kyle Adkins to replace Ryan Brady
Carver (Columbus) hired Calvin Arnold to replace Dremail King
Cedartown hired Doyle Kelley to replace Scott Hendrix)
Central (Carrollton) hired Darius Smiley to replace Larry Kesler
Claxton hired Tony Welch to replace Rodrick Williams
Coahulla Creek hired Caleb Bagley to replace Chad Barger
Collins Hill hires Lenny Gregory to replace Kevin Reach
East Coweta hired John Small to replace Steve Pardue
East Paulding hired Billy Shackelford to replace Jon Lindsey
Flowery Branch hired Ben Hall to replace Chris Griffin
Gilmer promoted Casey Wingard, who had been interim coach for the final seven games
Haralson County hired Scott Peavey to replace Frank Vohun
Hart County hired Rance Gillespie to replace William Devane
Hebron Christian hired Jeff Saturday to replace Kevin Shaffer
Jeff Davis hired Lance Helton to replace Ed Lovvorn
Jefferson hired Gene Cathcart to replace Ben Hall
Monroe Area hired Kevin Reach to replace Joey Sulkowski
Mount Zion (Carroll) hired Brad Gordon to replace Keith Holloway
North Gwinnett hired Bill Stewart to replace Bob Sphire
North Oconee hired Tyler Aurandt to replace Terry Tuley
Pacelli hired Mark LeGreeto replace Buster Connally
Peachtree Ridge hired Reggie Stancil to replace Mark Fleetwood
Perry hired Kevin Smith to replace Carl Dixon
Pierce County hired Jason Strickland to replace Sean Pender
Pope hired Tab Griffin to replace Kyle Adkins
Roswell hired Matt Kemper to replace John Ford
Shaw hired Al Pellegrino to replace Chuck Stamey
Sprayberry hired Brett Vavra to replace Billy Shackelford
Statesboro hired Jeff Kaiser to replace Steve Pennington
Therrell hired Greg Sullivan to replace Dominic Callaway
Union Grove hired Chad Frazier to replace Craig Melton
Villa Rica hired Rico Zackery to replace Chad Frazier
White County hired Tim Cokely to replace Bill Ballard

Jobs still open (with former coach)
Atkinson County – David Parker
Baconton Charter – Johnny Hayes
Baldwin – Lee Hannah
Bleckley County – Tracy White
Creekside – Will Rogers
Dutchtown – Mark Myers
Early County – Trey Woolf
Fitzgerald – Jason Strickland
Forest Park – Dale Myers
Gordon Central – David Humphreys
Johns Creek – Matt Kemper
Luella – Nick Vasilcheck
Long County – Eric McNair
M.L. King – Nicolas Kashama
Mitchell County – Larry Cornelius
Newnan – Mike McDonald
Northeast – Bruce Mullen
Northview – Chad Davenport
Savannah – Tony Welch
South Cobb – Sherrod Rainge
South Gwinnett – John Small
Southwest DeKalb – Fletcher Salter
Stone Mountain – Utavius Ingram
Strong Rock Christian – Tommy Webb
Tattnall County – Jeff Kaiser
Washington-Wilkes – Jacob Kelley

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