Posted: 9:11 pm Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Jessie Hester steps down as Suncoast’s football coach 

By Jeff Greer

Former Glades Central and Florida State great Jessie Hester stepped down as Suncoast’s football coach on Thursday after 10 months at the helm.

Hester

Hester, 48, said the job at one of Palm Beach County’s best academic public schools “wasn’t the right fit” for him. The academic pressures the students faced made it difficult for the football team to practice and prepare for games, Hester said, adding that his team would go weeks without a full practice because his players had other school obligations. His team finished 4-6, missing the playoffs and tying for third in a five-team district.

“There are great, great people at the school, and great kids,” Hester said, “but it was just not a good fit for me. It was too difficult to do the things I wanted to do in that situation.”

It was no secret that Suncoast, with its nationally ranked academic programs and rigorous academic requirements, would be a more challenging job than Hester’s previous stop, his alma mater Glades Central. In three seasons at Glades Central, one of the premier high school football programs in the nation that is perennially loaded with talent, Hester coached the Raiders to two state championship games and a 36-4 record.

He was fired by Glades Central a week after his team’s second consecutive loss in the state finals. The administration at the Belle Glade school said Hester’s teams didn’t live up to the school’s academic expectations, a charge that offended Hester, who said it wasn’t true.

This breakup was much cleaner, though it shocked Suncoast Athletic Director Kelli Erianne, who’d said several times throughout the year how much she loved Hester and the impact he made on Suncoast’s players. Erianne confirmed that Hester resigned, but didn’t comment further.

Hester’s quick departure was similar to that of previous coach Micah Mays, who was forced out as Suncoast’s coach after one season. Mays’ team was 2-8 but still reached the region quarterfinals, where it lost to Plantation-American Heritage.

The school was excited by Hester’s success at Glades Central — and the clout that came with his name — but there was no question the Chargers would present different challenges for Hester and his staff, much of which came with him from Glades Central.

Hester, who played 10 seasons in the NFL, inherited a talented senior class, one that included Florida International commit Davison Colimon and Division I prospect Abiade Granger in the secondary. Suncoast also featured a promising-but-inexperienced receiving corps, several bulky linemen and speedy running back James Huggins. But inconsistency and a lack of depth plagued Suncoast all season, as the Chargers bounced from big wins to surprising losses seemingly every week. Suncoast averaged 13.8 points a game on offense, third-worst among large schools teams.

On Thursday, Hester, a 2011 Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame inductee, kept returning to the academic challenges that faced Suncoast’s football players, saying it was too much for his staff to deal with as it tried to build a football program.

“They’ll find someone who’s better suited to work in that setting,” Hester said. “I just wasn’t that guy.”

Asked if he’ll be looking for a new job or take some time off, Hester said he’d apply for a job “if it was the right situation,” but he wouldn’t just jump at the first opening.

“I like coaching and I like working with kids,” Hester said. “I want to be somewhere where I can make an impact on the kids on and off the football field. Whether that’s next fall or sometime in the future, I don’t know. But yes, I’d like to have that opportunity, no question about it.”