High school football -- 'A once-in-a-career opportunity': Park Crossing's Grider eager for student involvement

High school football -- 'A once-in-a-career opportunity': Park Crossing's Grider eager for student involvement


High school football -- 'A once-in-a-career opportunity': Park Crossing's Grider eager for student involvement


When Smitty Grider first got into the coaching business, he was working as a part-time volunteer assistant coach at Georgia Washington Junior High and part time for United Parcel Service.

The UPS job, obviously, paid a lot better, so it’s doubtful Grider could have ever envisioned a day when he would land a job as the athletic director and head football coach at the city’s newest high school.

“When I left (the city for a job at Opelika High in 1995), there was talk about this area building a school,” Grider said. “I didn’t know where this (coaching) path would lead me. I knew I wanted to be a head coach at some point and was fortunate enough to get that opportunity at two places. I never dreamed that this might be a reality for me to come back home and be a head coach at a brand-new high school in Montgomery, Alabama.

“That’s why I’m here. It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity.”

Grider was introduced on Wednesday as the new football coach and athletic director at Park Crossing High, a decision that seems perfectly suited for the 1981 Jeff Davis High graduate, given his penchant for turning around programs and his familiarity with the east Montgomery neighborhoods that send students to Georgia Washington (and now Park Crossing).

“One of the first things we look for in any applicant, is it going to be right for our kids and without a doubt coach Grider is a good man, a good leader of young people and will stick up for what’s right here,” Park Crossing principal Rocky Smith said. “With his reputation for taking something that has not been great and turning it into something significant — the job he has done at Beauregard and Central-Coosa was significant — and his coaching pedigree, having been around big programs like Opelika and Smiths Station and some of his coaching awards and the overall job he has done.

“Then, the icing on the cake is he’s from Montgomery, and he wants to be here and he’s invested in our community. He knows this side of town and what it has taken in the past to have really good football programs in Montgomery. I don’t know where else you can find a package like that in any one individual.”

Grider made it clear he wanted to assemble his own coaching staff and Smith said he will have the opportunity as the school continues to grow, adding a third class of students this fall and then finally becoming a full-fledged high school with grades 9-12 in 2015. The addition of students will lead to the addition of another 14-15 teachers, vacancies that Grider may be able to utilize in hiring coaches that are also teachers in the classroom.

“The first thing I want to do is meet the kids, get to know the kids that are in the program and the coaches,” Grider said. “Building those relationships is probably the biggest first step I need to take. Then, evaluating the coaches and what they can do.”

The school will expand its athletic programs to include tennis, wrestling, golf, soccer and cross country in the near future, and Grider is excited about the opportunity to add more sports.

“At a growing school like this one, you’re going to need to add opportunities for kids to participate,” he said. “The more sports we can offer, the better overall program we will have. I’m a firm believer that kids need to play everything. I think the more times they have to compete, the better athlete, the better person, the better anything they’re going to be.

“In today’s age, we have a little too much of kids wanting to specialize in one sport. I think it makes the high school experience much better if they’ll compete in different things and learn different ways to compete.”

He said the Thunderbirds’ football program will run an up-tempo spread attack that will be physical with a run-first mentality, a defense that will play a base 3-4 but evolve based on the talents of the players and a special teams unit that he will personally oversee “because a lot of people overlook some things in that area.”

He started his career in the early 1980s under Cecil Foster and got his first high school coaching job in 1995 at Opelika High under Hall of Fame coach Spence McCracken. He said both have had a major impact on his coaching style.

“Cecil Foster was the first guy who hired me at Georgia Washington,” Grider said. “I learned so much from him about how to treat the kids, how to be a coach. And I’ve learned a lot from coach McCracken about how to run a football program. I think being able to take those experiences and become my own coach has carried me a long way toward building those programs.”

McCracken turned around Robert E. Lee’s fortunes immediately after his hiring in 1984 by getting everyone involved in the program. Grider will use the same blueprint at Park Crossing.

“First of all, I want to encourage everybody to play,” he said. “The more we can have in the program, whether it be not only playing but all of the things around the program like video to managers to trainers, any way kids can get involved, I want them to be involved. I would encourage kids who didn’t play last year to come out. It’s a clean slate. I don’t know any of them, and it’s an opportunity for anybody that may have had issues to get another opportunity and have a clean slate.

“I think our challenge is to encourage kids that are in this school zone to come to school here. I think the idea behind this school is to be a community school. Our challenge is to put a program out there that everybody wants to be a part of and that everybody who lives in our school zone would want to be a part of, not just athletically but academically and in everything else that is going on here.”


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