West/North/South Xtra: Pine-Richland gets a winner

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It's not often a coaching veteran with three WPIAL titles and one PIAA title on his resume is looking for a job.

Jeff Ackermann was, and his new employer could soon be reaping the benefits.

Ackermann, who had a highly successful 13-year run at Moon, was named the new coach at Pine-Richland July 14.

"I just didn't want to take any job," Ackermann said. "I wanted to make sure it was a pretty good job. And I thought Pine-Richland was a pretty good job."

Despite compiling a 224-116 record at Moon, Ackermann was not retained as coach following last season. That decision was made by the Moon school board in late March. Ackermann said he thinks that the school board's belief of a "lack of progress" over the past couple of seasons was a big reason for his departure. The Tigers fell short of the WPIAL playoffs four of the past five seasons, compiling a 51-59 record in that span, including 9-13 last season.

"I was never told anything. I was never given a reason," said Ackermann, a 1991 Brentwood graduate who now lives in South Fayette Township. "We had already started open gyms. We were returning seven of our top nine players. Things hadn't gone our way the last few seasons, but this season the experience level is pretty high. This coming season felt a lot better."

Out of a job, Ackermann, 41, had every intention on finding a new position for this upcoming season.

"I'm still pretty young. I wasn't ready to be done," said Ackermann, a teacher at Chartiers Valley High School.

Enter Pine-Richland. The Rams had opened their coaching position in early April. The school chose not to retain Brian Gaetano, who went 51-66 and made one trip to the WPIAL playoffs in his six seasons.

For Ackermann, it seemed like a natural fit. He said he was intrigued by the growth of the school district. He liked the familiarity, as Pine-Richland competes in Class AAAA, just as Moon does. He was also impressed by the program's potential.

"I know it's a growing community," Ackermann said. "When I was in high school, Pine-Richland was Single-A. To go from Single-A to Quad-A is pretty amazing. It's a place where people want to be. [Pine-Richland baseball coach] Kurt Wolfe was a senior [at Brentwood] when I was a freshman. He said a lot of [basketball] talent is coming up."

Pine-Richland finished 9-12 last season. It's previous playoff appearance came in 2011. The Rams have not won a postseason game since 2007.

Ackermann will try to change that. His background suggests he has a good chance of doing so. Moon qualified for the postseason eight times during his tenure. The Tigers won three consecutive WPIAL Class AAA titles from 2004-06 and a PIAA title in 2004.

They also made it to the WPIAL Class AAAA title game in 2008. New Castle (2012-14) is the only other WPIAL school in the past 15 years to win three consecutive WPIAL titles.

"I take a lot of great memories [from Moon]," Ackermann said. "Being there 13 years, I coached some great kids. There were a lot of great parents. It was the perfect storm when I got there. There were a lot of good players and the parents were hungry for a winner. Everything went right."

Ackermann is excited to get started at Pine-Richland. As of Sunday, he had already met or spoken to most of the players and had a meet-and-greet with parents.

He has been conducting open gyms and took some players to a team camp Saturday at Clarion University.

Ackermann said he likes the direction the program is headed.

"There's no reason why we can't compete for a playoff spot," he said. "If we're able to do that, hopefully we'll win some games in the playoffs. There's no doubt this program has a bright future."

First Published July 30, 2014 9:15 AM

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