LAKELAND — Irving Strickland is out as head football coach at Kathleen because of his teaching certificate status, according to news release by Polk County Public Schools.
Assistant coach and defensive coordinator Anthony Troutman will replace him.
The decision came down Monday, Strickland said, and the announcement was made Wednesday after coaches and school administrators met with parents at Kathleen in the late afternoon.
Strickland said he thought it was something he could take care of while remaining as head coach “but they decided to go in another direction.”
In a news release on Thursday clarifying the status of Strickland's teaching certificates, Polk County Public Schools reported that his teaching certifications expired in 2016. He was working as a provisional substitute and was required to obtain a temporary teaching certificate by June 30, but he did not fulfill that requirement.
Strickland was an Exceptional Student Education teacher at Kathleen, working with students children with disabilities who need specially designed instruction. He described the decision as a shock.
“You spend 18 years at a school, and it’s not something you expect to happen,” he said. “They made a decision, and you just roll with it.”
Strickland was emphatic that his coaching career is not over.
“This won’t be the last time you’ll see me walking the sidelines,” he said. “You’ll see me on the sidelines in the fall. I just don’t know where.”
The coaching change took the players by surprise.
“It was a shock,” Kathleen senior defensive back Brendan Gant said. "No one was really expecting it. We had a meeting and we understand what happened. We also understand everything will be OK.”
Gant, who is one of the top college prospects in the state, said some of the players began hearing about it Tuesday and met with athletic director Tom Sasser, but most players did not know until Wednesday’s meeting.
Strickland, a 1991 graduate of Kathleen, joined the Kathleen coaching staff in 2001 when Richard Tate, now the Ridge Community head coach, was the Red Devils’ head coach. He remained on staff when Brian Armstrong took over for Tate when Tate left to start the Ridge program in 2005. When Armstrong stepped down following the 2006 season to pursue a college coaching position, Strickland was one of three candidates who interviewed for the position and was promoted to head coach.
Strickland was the third-longest tenured Polk football head coach behind Lakeland’s Bill Castle and Winter Haven’s Charlie Tate. In 11 years as head coach, he led the Red Devils to a 66-49 record and four playoff appearances. He was 19 wins away from being Kathleen’s all-time winningest football coach.
The Red Devils’ best season under Strickland was 2013 when they went 9-3 and beat Lakeland 24-3, their first victory over their city rival since 1992.
“Coach Strickland is a Kathleen guy who had the opportunity come back and coach football,” Sasser said. “It was a dream. No one can argue with what he did in terms on winning and molding players to be able to go to college. He meant a lot to Kathleen.”
Strickland said there were goals he still wanted to accomplish at Kathleen, including becoming the Kathleen’s winningest coach, but the wins weren’t what he was most proud of during his time at Kathleen.
“It’s all about the kids, the impact on their lives and watching them grow from boys into great young men,” he said. “That’s what’s hurtful. I won’t be around them anymore.”
Strickland said the Kathleen football team will be in good hands with Troutman.
“He’s worked for me for 10 years,” he said. “I’ll be supportive. I’m going to make sure that there is a smooth transition.”
Troutman will be an ESE teacher, but Sasser said the new head coach is certified in multiple areas.
“Regardless of the circumstances, he’s ready to be head coach,” Sasser said. “He’s well-respected by everybody at this school.”
This story was updated on June 12, 2018 with new information on the status of Strickland's teaching certification.