Gruden’s call to Osborne coach is no joke

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.

Now this.

“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.”

10 comments Add your comment

Suwanee 0wns

September 27th, 2013
11:19 am

Gruden just earned a whole bunch of points in my eyes. What a great thing to do.

There are some darn good coaches out there at all levels of football who are eligible to join the “fired coaches club” by virtue of having been fired at some point.

This article does a good job pointing out some of the challenges facing High School coaches. At the end of the day they usually have to fit into some School Board budget – usually as a teacher. Then they earn almost diddly squat for all the extra hours coaching a team. Some supportive districts may augment the stipend with “Touch Down Club” add ons, but the long and the short of it is that nobody gets rich coaching High School football. Hats off to all the High School coaches out there, and good for Gruden to help them out.


September 27th, 2013
11:55 am

What a great gesture. Nice to see somebody give back like that. He’s made a Gruden fan out of me.


September 27th, 2013
3:03 pm

Always respected Gruden and his passion for life and football. I have been coaching my sons flag football team for two years and I love it. I know it’s not the same as a high school coach, but working with young men and watching them grow and learn is good for everyone.

Grudens the man. Hope he coaches again soon!


September 27th, 2013
3:54 pm

I’m very happy to read this, and I have always been a fan of Gruden.

He is a fiery and intense individual on the field, but his knowledge and devotion have never been questioned. Just watching his one-on-one interviews on Sportscenter with draft eligible quarterbacks provides good insight into his calling as a coach.

I read the sports page and blogs daily from numerous publications and blogs, and this is the best thing I have read this year.

I hope this continues and that other former players/coaches are able to depart knowledge on high school coaches and players moving forward to continue producing positive growth in football.

Kudos, Mr. Gruden. And thank you for writing this article.


September 27th, 2013
5:25 pm

Me too, westcobb5.

I’m now a Gruden fan.


September 27th, 2013
6:16 pm

Maybe Jon will run for President. We dayum sure need someone that can lead.

Big Boi

September 27th, 2013
10:05 pm

Damn I see ODS is everywhere!!

[...] to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smith received a call from a man identifying himself as Jon Gruden, former NFL coach and current [...]


September 30th, 2013
3:35 pm

WOW!! I knew there was something special about Mr. Gruden. He has that “down-to-earth-persona” when you see him on television and now I have even more reason to believe he is a bona-fide really good person.

This was the best article (blog) I have found reading these pages and it was well worth it. Too bad, there aren’t more of Jon Gruden to go around. Based on everything I have seen about him, these coaches are in for a once in a lifetime treat.

Thanks Mr. Gruden for making a lot of people smile…………Great gesture!!


September 30th, 2013
3:37 pm

Awesome!! Absolutely Awesome!! Maybe Mr. Gruden’s kindness somehow becomes contagious. Our GA kids would be thrilled.