Football coaches are always trying to find that extra edge, and a little extra training is always welcomed by a coach that wants to get better and in turn help his team get better. On Friday, more than 300 Georgia high school football coaches were on hand at the Falcons practice facility to do just that.
Friday's Coaches Clinic marked the sixth straight season the Falcons coaching staff has hosted high school coaches, but this season a little more access was granted than in previous years. Since Falcons head coach Mike Smith arrived in 2008, he's invited area coaches to the facility for a clinic but in past years the coaches arrived late in the afternoon for an evening session. This year, Smith wanted the coaches present for the final practice of this offseason's OTA schedule.
"We felt like we wanted to change it up somewhat this year," Smith said. "Instead of having it at night, allow them to come out and watch us practice and see how we do business. After practice, after lunch, we're going to do the normal clinic things where our coaches will have an opportunity to speak to the high school coaches."
Among the coaches on hand were two familiar Falcon names. Alumni Kevin Schaffer and Kynan Forney are now coaches in high school and both were back at their old stomping grounds to get better at their new coaching profession. Shaffer was a 2002 seventh-round pick by the Falcons and spent four seasons with the franchise. He was recently named head coach at Hebron Christian Academy.
Forney joined the Falcons in 2001 as a seventh-round pick and spent seven seasons with the Falcons. He's currently as assistant coach Berkmar High School. Both players were offensive linemen and teammates for four seasons during their time with Atlanta.
In addition to Forney and Schaffer, one other former NFL player was on hand with his high school staff. Former NFL punter Chris Hanson brought his staff from Trinity Christian School in Sharpsburg, Ga., to the clinic. Hanson spent nine seasons in the NFL, including a stint with the Jaguars from 2001-06. While in Jacksonville, Hanson worked with Smith while he was the team's defensive coordinator. Hanson was named head coach at Trinity Christian School in 2011.
Smith said he loves seeing former players continue their life in football with coaching and he's happy to take advantage of the opportunity to rub elbows with high school coaches because they have something to add to the coaching knowledge of any coach, even NFL coaches.
"It's great to see former players that are working with young men because high school football is the pipeline for the NFL," Smith said. "... (The coaches) take it very seriously. The clinics that I've attended are not only well-attended, but the coaches are very attentive. They're always learning and wanting to learn new things. There are, believe it or not, coaches at the NFL level that enjoy listening to the high school coaches talk because you can learn from them, as well."
This year's clinic boasted the highest turnout of coaches in the six years of the event and staffs came from as far away as Beach High School and South Effingham High School in Savannah and Dodge County High School outside Macon.
Following Friday's OTA practice session, the coaches had lunch and then attended a concussion and steroid education session at the facility. Friday afternoon's agenda included an address by Smith to the coaches as well as sessions conducted by offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong and strength and conditioning coaches Jonas Beauchemin and AJ Neibel.
Koetter's session covered game planning with the coaches while Nolan's addressed defensive vision and goals. Armstrong's meeting discussed the kickoff return and the strength and conditioning coaches reviewed specific areas of conditioning and fitness.
Smith said he believes high school coaching in Georgia is among the best in the country and he and the Falcons support the training and betterment of coaching at the high school level all year long.
"This is just one of many events," Smith said. "We have about five a year where we try to focus on the high school players and the high school coaches."