Lincoln (San Francisco)
football coach Phil Ferrigno thought somebody on his staff was pulling a gag. So did Foothill (Pleasanton, Calif.)
football coach Matt Sweeney.
Someone was leaving messages on their cell phones, imitating NFL Super Bowl winning coach and ESPN color analyst Jon Gruden, saying that he wanted to meet with them to talk football.
"Right," Sweeney said. "Jon Gruden wants to talk to me."
Said Ferrigno: "I saw the number was from Florida and I thought, this is pretty good, OK, I'll take the bait."
Turns out, the imitator was the original.
Gruden and his grassroots organization, "Fired Football Coaches Association,"
(FFCA) pick out three or four high school coaches at Monday Night Football stops, meets with them at a local Hooters restaurants, then hands over $1,000 for the program and a GoPro video camera.
On Saturday night, Ferrigno, Sweeney, Campolindo (Moraga)
coach Kevin Macy and McClymonds (Oakland)
coach Michael Peters and a some of their family and friends met with Gruden and organizer Daniel Walker at the San Bruno Hooters. In all there were about 75 guests, all on the FFCA dime.
Ferrigno said, the money donation and camera was just the icing on the cake.
"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity just to meet the man and the other coaches and talk football," he said.
Said Sweeney: "He's just an unbelievable real guy. What you see on Monday night is how he is 24-7. He just walked around and we talked football, other random things, took pictures, laughed a lot. It was a great night."
Gruden got a taste of coaching high school football after he was let go by the Buccaneers in Jan. of 2009. He volunteered to help out at tiny Carrollwood Day (Tampa, Fla.)
as a line coach.
If he didn't know already — he was connected to high school scene even as the coach of the Raiders — Gruden found out first hand the demands of the prep coaches and the little means most are given.
He and Walker decided to do something about it last year, with the backing of sponsors, was able to give local football programs a boost.
The FFCA was actually founded in 2008 as what Gruden called a "think-tank which welcomes current and former coaches and
players to study various phases of the game."
According to its mission statement, the the organization is "dedicated to giving back to the game of football, with a specific
emphasis on high school athletic programs.
"The FFCA strives to assist and honor student-athletes,
parents, coaches and administrators, who put in the time and effort to
enhance their lives through football. The FFCA seeks to accomplish this
mission through advocacy, education, fundraising and philanthropy."
Saturday's get-together was the fifth the FFCA has put together. Walker said he hopes it grows in 2014.
"These guys and their programs deserve support," Gruden said by phone Thursday. "They work endlessly and help build the lives of young people. On top of that, it just makes me feel good to give back."
He told KPIX reporter Dennis O'Donnell: "Right before Christmas, Santa was able to deliver a little gift to these guys and their high school programs and I'm really proud of that. If I've done anything right this year, it's been to reconnect with the high school coaches throughout the country."
Ferrigno, whose long family coaching tree crossed paths with Gruden, said the gesture is more than appreciated.
"It's great for someone of his stature who cares about the high school game," Ferrigno said. "He doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk."