Aaron Sheppard didn’t want to leave Ocoee High School.
He just couldn’t say no to the financial package he was being offered in Georgia.
Sheppard, who led Ocoee to its first final four appearance in 2022, announced Thursday that he’s stepping down to become the defensive coordinator at McEachern High School in Georgia.
“My stipend will be more than double,” Sheppard said. “As a defensive coordinator, the stipend is double what I get to be a head coach here. And then some. And there are playoff incentives, too. I didn’t negotiate that or anything. I didn’t have to. It’s just what they do.”
Florida may be the Sunshine State, but high school coaches know things are a whole lot greener in other parts of the country.
Sheppard wasn’t the only one announcing he was leaving the state on Thursday. Eric Lodge, who led Seminole to a state championship in 2020, is taking a head coaching job in South Carolina. Robert Paxia, who won a district championship at Flagler Palm Coast this past fall, is leaving his alma mater to take a head coaching job in Georgia.
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And it’s not just the on-field money, either.
There are reasons other than financial why coaches leave their jobs. But it absolutely is a factor.
“My kids are awesome,” Sheppard said of his Ocoee team. “We had a really good group. A phenomenal group of guys. The school is awesome. The administration is great, and the principal did everything she could. But professionally, I’ve always wanted to get a doctorate. They pay for advanced education (in Georgia). Retirement is better. In Florida, retirement is so low and you have to work so many years. That was a huge problem. I’m looking at Florida and it sucks.
“I want to get my doctorate and it’s too much, too. That’s the issue I was running into. How do I preach this to myself? I would tell anyone else to take the opportunity to make twice my salary, maybe more. Like I said, my kids were phenomenal, they were great. But for the future of my house? It was a tough decision.”
Dr. Andrew Ramjit, executive director of the Florida Coaches Coalition, said seeing coaches leave the state is “heartbreaking.”
“Essentially, we’re losing our coaches because we can’t pay them,” Ramjit said. “We can’t provide them the same resources as other states, so they’re leaving.
“The immediate fix is to set coaching supplement schedules with Texas and Georgia. That’s where most of our coaches are going. Gwinnett County (Georgia) is almost double what the average is in Florida. And being a football coach there is a paid position. You’re not teaching classes.”
This isn’t a new issue, but seeing multiple winning coaches leave the state on the same day casts a new spotlight on the issue. It won’t be going away unless Florida finds a way to pay its coaches — and teachers — more money.
Royal Palm Beach coach Chuck Kenyon returned to the state for 2022 after five years in Georgia. Before his time in Georgia, Kenyon was a head coach in Florida for more than a decade with a handful of playoff wins on his resume. He received an immediate $1,300 stipend increase as a position coach in Georgia.
“It was definitive, the increase I made in going to Georgia with a lot less responsibility,” Kenyon said. “It’s across the board. It’s education in general. I think the thing that needs to take place is there needs to be a concerted effort educationwise. Not just coachingwise. There has to be a concerted effort to increase pay.
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“We had 400 empty teaching spots in Palm Beach County at the beginning of the year. That’s a lot. Think about it. 400 empty full-time spots and they’re building another high school that’s going to be open next year. It goes way beyond coaching. There has to be a conscious shift in allocated monies to that. Georgia has a state (income) tax. We don’t have a state tax here. We have a federal tax. The state tax helps with those things.”
Ramjit said Brevard County is taking steps to increase coach pay and expects the county’s head coaches to be the highest-paid public school coaches in the state as soon as June.
The extra money is coming from the county’s millage increase, as property owners in Brevard voted to pay $1 more per $1,000 of assessed property value. (That money is not solely for coach pay, but a portion of it is being earmarked.) Ramjit is hopeful other counties will follow suit.
If not, expect to see more coaches leave the state.
“It’s a different clientele nowadays,” Kenyon said. “Gone are the days when you’re going to have a Bill Castle at a place for 47 years. There’s too much nowadays. You have 7-on-7s. You have street agents. You don’t have the loyalty you used to have. The days of those guys staying 10-15 years are going to be few and far between going forward.”