Baldwin hires 5-time WPIAL champion Jeff Ackermann as boys basketball coach

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020 | 10:30 PM


Until this week, Jeff Ackermann coached basketball at Pine-Richland, lived in South Fayette and taught at Chartiers Valley, a commute that saw him and his family crisscross the county.

With an 8-year-old son, a daughter who’s 6 and another son who’s 2½, that arrangement couldn’t last forever.

“The drive kind of gets to you,” he said. “Every time you want to go to the gym, it’s a 32-mile drive. After six years, it kind of wears you down.”

Ackermann resigned as Pine-Richland’s boys basketball coach and was hired Wednesday at Baldwin, a career move that brought the Brentwood native back to his South Hills roots. The school board voted 9-0 to hire Ackermann, who owns five WPIAL titles and one PIAA championship.

The decision could be considered surprising. He goes from one of the WPIAL’s top programs to a team that went 0-10 in the section last season and 1-19 combined in the past two.

The Highlanders haven’t won a WPIAL playoff game since 2003.

“When I look at it, I think I’m maybe crazy,” Ackermann said with a laugh, “because I was head coach of a program that I believe next year would still be a top five program. In six years, I’ve had zero issues at Pine-Richland. … There hasn’t been a single reason to look for a job, other than the fact that I live far away.”

However, Ackermann has twice taken over a lackluster program and won a WPIAL title in his first three years. It happened at both Pine-Richland and Moon. Before accepting this job, Ackermann studied Baldwin’s roster and saw similar reasons for optimism.

“I watched some of their games on Hudl and I think they have a really solid team,” Ackermann said. “I can’t speak for what’s happened in the past. I just think they have talent there and we’re going to win. I’m not going there to go 0-10 or 1-9. Why would I do that?”

Ackermann went 126-35 in six seasons at Pine-Richland with two WPIAL titles, a WPIAL runner-up and a state runner-up finish. Before joining the Rams in 2014, he went 224-116 in 13 seasons at Moon with three WPIAL titles and a state championship.

“We are overly excited to have coach Ackermann,” said John Saras, assistant principal and athletics coordinator at Baldwin. “We had highly qualified, highly intense candidates, but his resume is something that drew our interest from the very beginning.”

Saras said there was excitement around Baldwin as word spread that Ackermann would be hired. The question Saras got most often: How did you get Jeff Ackermann to come to Baldwin?

“I think he sold himself to us as much as we sold us to him,” Saras said. “It was a match. I know his name was mentioned with other (coaching) positions. We’re just excited to have him.”

Ackermann becomes Baldwin’s fourth coach since 2003, when Kyle DeGregorio guided the Highlanders to their most recent playoff victory. DeGregorio coached the team for nine seasons (2002-11), followed by Joe Urmann for seven (2011-18) and Eugene Wilson (2018-20).

Baldwin went 14-29 under Wilson with a 1-19 section record.

“We weren’t intimidated by anyone at Pine-Richland. I want that to happen at Baldwin,” Ackermann said. “I want Baldwin to be tough and hard-nosed and not afraid of anybody.”

Ackermann had interest in job openings closer to home but said he hadn’t applied at Baldwin until school administrators contacted him. He has family in the district, including two brothers who live minutes from the school.

Coaching at Baldwin shortens his after-school trips from Chartiers Valley, but also reduces travel time for his wife Jill, who brings their kids to the games. Rather than drive to Butler or Seneca Valley, the section road trips could be at Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair, Peters Township and others close to South Fayette.

“She’s going to gyms that are like 15 or 20 minutes away now,” Ackermann said. “It makes everything easier for the whole family. From my wife to my kids to my brothers to our parents — everything.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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