NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Troy Fleming used to practice on the fields at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
On Wednesday, the former Titans fullback stood on the turf in a different role, surrounded by roughly 250 other coaches, as the organization opened its doors for the 2017 Tennessee Titans High School Coaches Clinic.
"It is awesome to be back,'' said Fleming, a sixth-round draft pick in 2004 from the University of Tennessee. "Being out here, it brings back so many memories of practices and meetings, and just looking around and seeing familiar faces. Now, I get to look at things from a coaching perspective. It's a great experience."
Fleming, in his fourth season as head coach at Concord Christian School in Knoxville, thanked the Titans for the invite.
"Not a lot of coaches get the access to a professional sports team, professional sports facilities," said Fleming, who starred at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin. "So this is great. And what they are doing, it is connecting with the community. Players in high school see the Titans games all the time and they want to be connected to that, so this is an awesome opportunity."
Plenty of coaches took the Titans up on their invitation.
This year's coaching clinic doubled in size from a year ago, said Josh Corey, Football Outreach Coordinator for the Titans. Instead of coaching sessions inside the auditorium, sessions were held inside the indoor practice facility this year to accommodate the bigger turnout.
On Wednesday, the coaches watched the team's practice while also spending time at the facility with coaches, and general manager Jon Robinson.
The clinic started with an introduction from head coach Mike Mularkey, followed by instruction from Titans strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson. Robinson then addressed the group.
Following dinner, Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau held a question and answer session, and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie and linebackers coach Lou Spanos conducted coaching sessions with the coaches before a series of breakout sessions with position coaches.
Mularkey adjusted the team's practice schedule to make the event happen.
Chris Hughes, head coach at Fairview High, was back for the third year in a row.
"Just watching how they organize their practices, what the coaches are telling their players, you really get to see what you can use at the high school level," Hughes said. "They make such good use of their practice time.
"I really like my position coaches to take something new from here and try and implement it. It's nice to see how the big boys do it so we can use it with the little guys."
Hughes watched a quarterback drill designed to help with quick decision-making. He said his defensive line coaches have regularly picked up ideas from the clinic.
"You can't get this any place else,'' Hughes said. "You can just see everyone is taking it in out here. It is good for our kids in Tennessee, because these high school coaches are going back and working with kids who want to get to this level. I think you are getting a lot of buy-in from a high school kid when you say we are using NFL drills. It's just an automatic right there."
Mularkey previously held coaching clinics for high school coaches. Corey, in fact, attended a similar camp when Mularkey coached the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012.
Corey was a high school coach himself at Fletcher High (Fla.) back then. Corey taught and coached at Fletcher from 1997-2014 after a playing career at the University of Florida. Corey once again worked with Mularkey to organize this year's clinic with the Titans.
"As a coach, whenever I would come to these clinics I would always look for at least one thing I could take back and implement, whether it was something of scheme, drills, or just a philosophy,'' Corey said. "I would find one thing that I could bring back to my school and make my program better and make my kids perform better. You are not going to find all the answers here today, but it is a professional development opportunity that will give you and your coaches an opportunity to deliver better instruction and hopefully build your program to be even better than you were a year before."
As Corey looked at the large number of coaches on the fields on Wednesday, he felt a sense of pride. But he was already thinking ahead to next year's clinic, when he expects the crowd to grow in size once again.
Coaches could be seen taking notes as they watched drills, and as they listened to the coaches during the sessions.
"It is great," Corey said. "We feel like we've made huge inroads with the coaches in the state of Tennessee over the last couple of years, and for us to be able to double our participation this year, we feel that the message is out that we care about the work (the coaches) do, that we want to support the work (they) do and that is how we see our role here with these guys, to be able to support everything that they do for their student athletes."
Titans host annual high school football coaches clinic at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)