JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – OJ Small never intended to be a high school football coach.
Eleven years later, he finally isn’t going to be one.
The Riverside football coach resigned this week after turning around a Generals program and building it into one of the area’s best. Small said that the time was right to segue full-time into other business opportunities and enjoying the time with his family, especially his two daughters.
“Time is one thing we can’t get back in life. I have 11- and 9-year-olds who have less time in my household than they do in it because they’ll be going off to college,” he said. “I’m 39 years old. Time flies. I enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. You just can’t get this time back.”
Small was 79-39 during his tenure.
That Small was coaching 11 years after he got into it surprised even him. He never intended to be a coach. Despite starring in high school at Forrest (now Westside) and playing at the University of Florida in college, Small never saw himself making the transition to coaching. But he became a teacher and then got involved in the football program as an assistant.
Small took over a Lee High program two games into the 2011 season after being named the interim coach in place of Myrick Anderson. The interim tag was removed permanently in 2012 and Small built the Generals into a perennial playoff contender.
Riverside had just two losing seasons under Small, his first in 2012-13. He got the Generals on track in 2014 with a seven-win season and reached the playoffs for the first time the following year.
They didn’t miss again, including a run to the state semifinals in 2016. The Derrick Jones-powered Generals beat Bartram Trail in an epic 61-59 regional final to get there before falling to Tampa Plant, 27-19 in the final four game. Small got out of teaching full-time in 2020 to concentrate on business opportunities in real estate yet stayed on as Riverside’s head coach the past two seasons.
“I always tell people I coach a mentality and the attitude I instill in players. We never had biggest, strongest, straight-up fastest teams when I got there,” Small said. “We were going to fight and leave everything we had on the field. That’s all I asked. As the years passed, more talent started coming in.”
Small’s resignation is another reminder that good, young coaches in the area will continue to look elsewhere for more opportunities, be it out of state or in another profession entirely.
Coaching supplements in Florida are woeful for the demands of the profession. Small’s supplement as the head coach in Duval County was $4,699. The last pay raise for Duval County coaches came in the mid-1990s.
“It’s not necessarily the funds, but I definitely agree if my salary was something like Georgia or Texas, I’m sure I’d have stuck it out,” Small said. “It’s unfortunate that the coaches and school teachers in Florida are not paid for their true values that they hold.”
OJ Small by the year
2011: 5-3 (interim head coach)
2016: 10-3 (state semifinals)