Coaching for a living was never part of the plan for Melissa Jackson.

But once nudged in that direction, the plan changed. She hasn't regretted it. Rather, the career has continued trending upward.

It led to Jackson being named head coach of women's basketball for the University of Akron last June, after 10 years as an assistant — the past six as associate head coach — for the Zips' all-time winningest coach, Jodi Kest.

After Kest retired at the end of last season, Jackson was one of several candidates interviewed to replace her. Athletic Director Larry Williams told her to continue "running the program like it was my own" until a replacement was named.

"I took that to heart and I did that," Jackson said. "It was a long process but we worked tirelessly that three months. Camps and recruiting, just keeping everything afloat."

After the interview process ended, Williams called Jackson into his office.

"He said, 'Would you like to be the head coach at Akron?'" Jackson recalled. "Obviously, I was elated. Just a great opportunity for me and a dream come true."

She added it was "a very popular opening" with plenty of qualified applicants.

"But I think at the end of the day, they got the right person for the job," she quipped.

An all-state high school player from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Jackson signed with the University of Richmond of the Atlantic 10 Conference as a 5-foot-9 point guard.

Then known as Melissa Dymek, she had an injury-plagued four-year career while working toward a political science degree.

Her coach the last two years, Joanne Boyle, led the Spiders to Women's National Invitation Tournament berths in those seasons.

"She just saw something in me and said. 'You just have to be a coach,' " Jackson said. " 'You've got a great basketball IQ.' I was a poli sci major. I was going to go to law school. But she said. 'You really need to try this coaching thing.' "

With her coach's help, she was hired as an assistant at the University of Delaware, which made it to three postseason tournaments in her four years there from 2004-08.

Her boyfriend at the time, Drew Jackson, proposed marriage. Since he lived in Bay Village, Melissa planned on moving to Ohio to be with him.

She wrote to several of the college coaches in Northeast Ohio, seeking a job, and received an offer from Kest, who had an opening.

"I met with her — an informal meeting — and she offered me the job shortly after," Jackson said.

Now after 10 years in Ohio, she and Drew have two young boys — Luke, 5, and Ben, 2. And she is happy to be staying.

"I love the area and Northeast Ohio," she said. "I've grown to love it. I love Akron."

Their personalities may be different, but Jackson has learned much from her time working for Kest. Like her mentor, Jackson never sits during the game. She is constantly moving, thoroughly involved in the action.

"I don't sit," she said. "What this team needs, I think, is just a lot of energy and a lot of positivity. So I want to be up, coaching hard for them, 100 percent in all of this.

"I feel if I sit down, they're going to relax a little bit. And I don't want them to relax."

The results have been encouraging, and better than predicted so far. Picked to be at the bottom of the East and 11th overall in the 12-team Mid-American Conference, the Zips were 14-9 overall and 5-7 in the MAC going into Wednesday night's game at Eastern Michigan. The 14 wins are the most by a first-year women's basketball coach in UA history.

This after back-to-back 9-21 seasons and just five MAC wins in two years.

Jackson became recruiting coordinator for the Zips in her first year as an assistant in 2008-09. The 2013-14 senior class posted a school-record 74 victories in their four years, ending with a MAC championship and NCAA Tournament berth.

She has been the position coach for the guards during that time, working with all-MAC performers Anita Brown and Hannah Plybon in 2016.

Among the current group are senior Megan Sefcik, the Zips' leading scorer, and junior point guard Shaunay Edmonds.

"She was the main recruiter," Sefcik said of Jackson. "And she did a phenomenal job. She was a very good assistant and she's an even better head coach. I'm just glad to be playing for her.

"She shows a lot of confidence in us and I think she is calmer in situations. When the games are close, she stays calm and we are able to stay calm and execute down the stretch."

Jackson faced a challenging situation earlier in the season when she suspended Edmonds for six games for a violation of team rules.

"When you take over a program, you have standards you want to follow," Jackson said. "You have to set those standards right from the get-go.

"But Shaunay and I have a great relationship, and she's continued to grow and grow this year."

Jackson has put more emphasis on recruiting talent from this area, including freshman guard Kendall Miller from St. Vincent-St. Mary. Junior Caitlin Vari, a 6-1 forward from Revere High, is the veteran among local players on the squad.

"But we have four, five or six girls that are pretty local now," Vari said. "That's what Coach Jackson really prides herself on — getting local girls, keeping the local talent close."

That includes three of next year's five incoming class, including Emma Tecca and Lonasia Brewer from currently undefeated Archbishop Hoban.

Vari said Jackson has provided "youth and the energy" since taking over.

"She's very passionate," Vari said. "Every time she comes into practice, every game she comes into, she's very determined and helps motivate us."

Jackson is determined to guide a successful stretch run.

"We're in a position now where every game means something," Jackson said. 'We're fighting for seeding, we're fighting for positions in the conference, for a postseason bid potentially.

"I think the kids have really bought into everything we've done. And they understand that everything we do has a purpose."