FLOWERY BRANCH — The Atlanta Falcons entertained a different set of students Friday night at their South Hall headquarters: high school football coaches. And instead of worrying about barking out play calls, Falcons coach Mike Smith was spending his time meeting and greeting the couple hundred high school coaches in attendance for the team’s third annual coaches clinic.
“Coaches are a fraternity,” Smith said. “Whether it’s high school, college or professional football, it’s still the same game.
“We have to be able to interact and learn from one another.”
Smith doesn’t invite coaches into the Falcons’ headquarters to try and impress them with how much he knows; Atlanta’s coach makes it a priority to open up the team’s complex to high school coaches from all over the state to hear guest lecturers from college football programs (including the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University), as well as some of Atlanta’s own coaches to give tips to improve the prep coaches’ coaching skills.
They like to think of it as a one-stop business conference where they can all share the best of the trade secrets. High school coaches like the timing of things with spring football on the horizon, so all the new information gathered is still fresh.
“It’s really awesome for them to have us all in here to this great facility they have here,” new Riverside Military coach Chris Cotter said. “These are some of the best teachers.
“It would be really easy for them to simply give us cursory knowledge, but they really go into great detail of explaining everything.”
Coaches not only listened to guest lectures, but also took a tour of the Atlanta Falcons’ headquarters and ate together in the team’s dining hall. The conversation remained civil between rival coaches with the season still months away; all were focused on picking the brains of some of the game’s most successful coaches, instead of hashing out local rivalries.
“It’s a good time for us all to come together and be social,” East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. “The Falcons are very generous to open up their facilities and welcome us all in here.”
Most of the Falcons’ position coaches led seminars with a classroom full of high school coaches, and taught lessons heavy in football lingo. Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels and Georgia Tech quarterbacks coach Brian Bohannon also got into very specific detail about their position coaching intricacies — teaching in different rooms, of course.
“I hope you can just take away one ideal from this that can help your team,” said Searels, after giving a video presentation. “Is it ideal or idea?”
“I don’t know, (Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo always has to correct my grammar.”
When high school coaches and professional football coaches get into a conversation, there is more of an overlap than many might expect. Those that have been in the game for enough years know and have worked with many of the same people, despite being from different parts of the country.
As Gainesville High defensive coordinator Jim Pavao entered the dining room, he immediately sat down and struck up a conversation with Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder about similar acquaintances, football technique and local athletes.
Both men happen to also know each other through worshipping at the same Gainesville church.
“These facilities here are amazing,” Pavao said. “You walk around doing a tour and see the lockers of the guys that you watch on television.”
Smith still has a special place in his heart for his own high school coach from his playing days at Father Lopez High in Daytona Beach, Fla. In fact, he still receives an e-mail each Monday morning during the season with tips on how to improve.
In Smith’s mind, the link between the high school and pro game are inseparable.
“I want every high school coach to take at least one thing they’ve learned and take it back to their team,” Smith said.