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ESPN’s Jon Gruden invites Atlanta-area high school coaches to talk football

By on September 29, 2013 11:21 am

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VYPE-Georgia-BoxOsborne coach Xarvia Smith thought he was the victim of a prank call that turned out to be a Super Bowl-winning coach and national television analyst.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smith received a call from a man identifying himself as Jon Gruden, former NFL coach and current analyst of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

Gruden invited Smith to dinner this week at an Atlanta Hooters to talk shop i.e. football.

As it turns out, the call was not a prank. Gruden is in Atlanta preparing for the Jets-Falcons Monday night game, and also reached out to local coaches John Diehl of Forest Park, James Holloway of Towers and Dominic Callaway of Therrell. Gruden often leans on the media for the names of coaches and programs that are making progress at hard-to-win, underfunded programs.

“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.

“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.”

Gruden founded the Fired Football Coaches Association — a think tank for coaches to study football — and its mission to give back to the game with an emphasis on high school football. Between NFL jobs, Gruden volunteered as an assistant coach at his son’s school in Tampa. His 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.’’