CASA GRANDE — The coach who will lead Vista Grande football into a new era is a man with Casa Grande roots.
Jon Roberts, a Casa Grande Union alum and former college football player, has been chosen as the new Spartans football coach, Vista Grande athletic director Bobby Pierce told PinalCentral on Tuesday. The official hire is pending approval from the Casa Grande Union High School District Governing Board and will be presented at its next meeting.
Roberts jumps to Casa Grande from Eloy, where he was an assistant football coach at Santa Cruz Valley, which won the 2A state championship last season under head coach Rishard Davis.
In an email, Pierce said he was happy to announce Roberts had accepted the school’s offer, adding the hiring process attracted some “high-quality candidates,” including two finalists who coached in Arizona state championship games for their respective teams.
Pierce added he is excited for the community to see the same Roberts that he saw during the interview process. Roberts, who played football for CG Union and graduated in 1998, is also the nephew of CG Union athletic director Randy Robbins.
“In the community he is known for his great play as a student athlete that represented Union in the late ‘90s ... he is also known as an assistant coach with a great football mind,” Pierce said. “The Jon Roberts I met is an organized, focused, passionate, and hungry coach ready to pave his own way and make his own name as a great head football coach for the Spartans.”
Roberts takes over for Chris Semore, who resigned as coach in December. The Spartans went 1-6 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Roberts, who coached the skill positions and was an offensive analyst for Santa Cruz, said he was ecstatic when he received the job offer to be head coach at Vista Grande.
“I take it as an honor,” he said in a phone interview. “This is my city, this is my home ... I’m still soaking it in.”
Roberts said he feels the urgency of his responsibilities taking over the program, adding, “it’s go time now.”
After graduating high school, Roberts played college football at New Mexico, where he was teammates with future NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher. He later transferred to Norfolk State, where he finished his college career.
Before getting into coaching, Roberts was a stock trader and a precious metals trader for Morgan Stanley. That world of finance was going to be his career until he lost his job during the Great Recession in 2008.
Fast forward a few years later, and after Roberts got some experience coaching youth football with the Arizona Flames, the coaching bug bit him.
Then he got an opportunity to coach at the high school level at none other than Vista Grande.
At the time, Tracy Stuart was the head coach, and he brought Roberts in to be the offensive coordinator in 2015. In that season, the Spartans went 7-3 in the regular season and made the state playoffs.
In 2016, Roberts joined the coaching staff at Scottsdale Chaparral, where he spent one season. The following year, he had an opportunity to learn from an Arizona high school coaching legend.
Roberts was the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Tempe Marcos de Niza under the late Paul Moro, who won 13 state championships. He finished his career as the all-time leader in state history with 336 wins.
“That was life changing,” Roberts said of coaching with and learning from Moro.
A year later, Davis contacted him and asked him to come to Santa Cruz. Roberts helped with the JV team in 2018 while he was taking classes to get his teaching certificate. In 2019 and 2020, he was the offensive analyst for the varsity, helping develop game plans.
Roberts and Davis are close, which is why Roberts called it “bittersweet” to leave Santa Cruz. He said he is very appreciative of Davis and respects all he has accomplished.
“He was very happy for me,” Roberts said of Davis. “It was a blessing to coach underneath him.”
The Spartans program needs to be rebuilt, and Roberts said he is under no illusions about that. The team has gone 1-16 in the last two seasons.
But with his background as a product of Casa Grande, an accomplished playing career and having family members like Robbins, he said there will also be expectations.
“There’s gonna be a certain level of pressure ... people are gonna expect us to win,” he said.
The winning may not come right away, as Roberts said a culture and expectation of winning needs to be developed. But he’s excited for the challenge of getting Vista Grande on a winning track.
As a Black man, Roberts is aware that coaching opportunities are even more difficult to come by, and he said he’s experienced it himself. He was a finalist for other “major” high school jobs, even a couple this year, but was never chosen at the other schools.
Hiring the most qualified person for the job is what counts, Roberts said, and he knew his qualifications were strong.
“If you looked at my coaching resume ... why wouldn’t I get a job at a mid to lower-level school? ... and it’s (because of) skin tone,” he said.
Roberts said Davis “cracked the ceiling” at the Arizona high school level, as many outlets have reported Davis is the first Black coach to win a state championship in Arizona.
One of the main goals for Roberts is to let his players know that winning can and will happen at Vista Grande. He’s confident he can get that message through because he said he can relate to the players, and he can tell them about what he achieved as a kid from Casa Grande.
The last two weeks have been particularly good for Roberts, as he closed on a house in the Mission Valley subdivision two weeks ago, and now he’s coaching high school football in his hometown.
“I’m tickled pink; it’s a dream come true,” he said.