FITZGERALD, GA (WALB) - Fitzgerald head football coach Jason Strickland is leaving to become the head coach at Pierce County.
He says it was a gut wrenching decision to leave, but one he feels is best for his family.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever done," Strickland says. "We've had five awesome years here, the five best years of my career. This is closest I've ever been to a group of kids."
Strickland led the Canes to a 54-14-1 record in five seasons, including back-to-back state title game appearances in 2015 and 2016.
"This program was in awesome shape when [former head coach and current Coffee head coach] Robby Pruitt left. I know it's in even better shape now because of the kids in it," he says. "The support this program gets, and the work ethic of the kids is unlike anything I've ever seen."
Strickland says he and his wife have family near Blackshear, and he says the chance to take over the Bears program is one he couldn't pass up.
"This is a really good opportunity with some unique challenges," Strickland says. "But I love the vision they have for the future."
Pierce County has seen a program revitalization over the last six seasons, under former head coach Sean Pender. The Bears have been to the state playoffs six straight seasons, including a pair of region titles in 2011 and 2012. Pender left Pierce Co. to take the head coaching job at Brunswick this offseason.
The school is moving into a new facility this fall, which includes a new weight room. That's something Strickland says is exciting for a program on the upswing.
Despite leaving, Strickland feels good about the future of Fitzgerald football.
"Whoever takes over this program is getting a group of great, hard working kids who know how to win," he says.
The search for the new head coach is underway.