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Red Knights coach Earnest Graham talks about a huge win for him and his program as they came back from 10 points down to win 27-23.
Craig Handel

The North Fort Myers football team’s third undefeated regular season in school history was coach Earnest Graham’s last.

Graham resigned his position as the team’s head coach citing ongoing health issues and a desire to spend more time with his family as the reason for his decision, in a statement released by the Lee County School District.

“God, family, and community are very important to me. The head coaching position has made it challenging for me to meet my goal of being 100 percent involved in my kids’ academics and hobbies, as well as living a healthy life. It is time for me to take care of myself and fully support their needs and dreams,” Graham wrote.

More: Earnest Graham: ‘No plans to leave’ North Fort Myers High football despite assistant departures

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In four seasons with the Red Knights, Graham’s teams went a combined 25-14. Last season, the Red Knights finished 9-1, won a district championship, eventually losing 7-6 to Fort Myers in a Class 6A regional semifinal.

“I’ll look back on it with great pride,” Graham told The News-Press. “I didn’t have any idea what it was going to be like to be a coach. … I came in and it was a phenomenal experience. The kids taught me really a lot about myself. Hopefully, I gave them a number of things they can carry with them in the future. There’s nothing I regret about those four years.”

North principal Debbie Diggs thanked Graham for his service in a statement.

“Through his work with our football program, student-athletes, fellow coaches, staff, parents and community, he rebuilt a program into one we are all proud of,” Diggs said. “We are deeply thankful to him for his dedication, and to his wife, Alicia, and their two children for their time and commitment to our school.

“Our love and support are with coach Graham as he focuses on his health and family during this time of transition. We look forward to a continued relationship as a Red Knight family. “

Graham graduated from Mariner as Lee County’s all-time leading rusher with 5,710 yards before starring at the University of Florida. He went on to play eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Graham told The News-Press he had “no plans to leave” the program earlier this month when the school district posted an opening for his job, which occurred the last three years because Graham was not a district employee.

“During that time, it was something I was contemplating,” Graham said. “I gave my best answer during that time. Every year it changes. My health issues have escalated every single year since I’ve been into coaching.”

The speculation about Graham’s job status arose as his assistant coaches left for other jobs. 

Mack Mitchell, North’s defensive coordinator the last four seasons and once a high school teammate of Graham’s, took the head coaching position at Oasis. Special teams coach Marek Moldawsky and another assistant are also headed to Oasis.

Graham said two volunteer coaches decided not to coach again next season.He left the door ajar for serving as an assistant coach for a high school program in the future but said he’s not considering it at this point. He’s focused on coaching his son in the Dunbar Little League and helping that organization grow.

“It was a very tough decision,” Graham said. “It’s something about me being able to coach, trying to balance every single year with regard to things to outside of football. This was definitely a year where things got away from me. I feel like it’s best I’m not at the head coach position now and never again.”