Osborne coach Xarvia Smith got a call on his cell phone this week that he still thinks might’ve been a joke.
The caller invited Smith for dinner next week at Hooters in downtown Atlanta to talk football. He identified himself as Jon Gruden, the former NFL coach and now commentator for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
“He said he knew some friends of mine and heard good things about me and my team and wanted to help me out and talk a little football,” Smith said. “I was in the weight room and told him I couldn’t talk. I probably sounded disrespectful, but I didn’t believe it. Then I called Hooters to ask them if they had something scheduled when he said it was.”
It was no prank.
Gruden will be in town next week ahead of the Monday night game between the Falcons and the Jets. The coach, who won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in the 2002 season, also has reached out to local coaches John Diehl of Forest Park, James Holloway of Towers and Dominic Callaway of Therrell, none of whom has ever met Gruden.
Gruden typically identifies a few local high school coaches and teams that are making progress at hard-to-win, underfunded programs. He gets recommendations from local media and coaches that he knows in the area.
“He said he was a high school coach and knew that we needed some help with all the budget cuts and wanted to reach out and help,” Smith said. “I don’t know who he knows that I know, but I’m grateful, blessed and happy. He gave me his personal cell number and said I had a friend for life. That was pretty cool.”
In 2009, Gruden founded the Fired Football Coaches Association, which he calls a think tank for coaches to study football. Its mission is to give back to the game with a specific emphasis on high school football.
After the Buccaneers fired him in 2008, Gruden volunteered as an assistant coach at his son’s school in Tampa. Deuce is now at senior on the football team at LaFayette College. Gruden’s father, Jim, was a high school coach, his mother a school teacher, so helping out his son’s team was something he relished. It also opened his eyes to the challenges.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for what these high school coaches are up against,’’ Gruden said. ‘’(Until) I helped my son’s high school, I never realized you had to figure out creative ways to get anything from a practice ball to a new jersey. Budgets are reduced, and coaches don’t get paid anything, but they’re expected to perform at a high level. I really wanted to find ways to assist some of these schools need help.’’
Gruden began his get-togethers with local coaches last season and held about five of them while on the “Monday Night Football’’ tour. The chosen coaches are allowed to bring a few of their players and guests.
Smith said he was bringing his staff, which is smaller than most, and three of his seniors.
It has already been a pretty good year for Smith’s Osborne team, which hasn’t had a winning season since 1994. The Cardinals are 2-2, winning their first season opener in 10 years and first homecoming game in 19.
“I’m going to try to take advantage of every second I have with him,” Smith said. “The coolest thing is he said he’d sit down with a dry erase board and really talk football. I’m really honored. I’m going to have three or four things that I have football-wise and coaching-wise to make my program better and just enjoy the moment. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that brings a lot of attention to our program.”