For every one of his 12 coaching stops, Charlie Coiner picked up a playbook or two — or eight or 15. Big, thick ones; the kind that won't stack easily within a normal cardboard box.
Tennessee's new tight ends/special teams coach grew tired of lugging his ever-growing stash of football knowledge wherever he went. Like a music lover ditches his old albums for MP3s, Coiner wanted to convert his pencil-scribbled X's and O's for digital files. He just needed an appropriate amount of time away from the football field and a little help from his new friends in Austin, Texas.
Two years later, he's the proud founder of a small business, FirstDown PlayBook. Via applications on the iPad or iPhone, Coiner's business provides those thousands and thousands of the plays he previously had stuffed away in a closet to coaches from all levels.
"I was doing it for me to make myself a better coach with whatever job I got on offense," Coiner said. "Well, that turned into where somebody else looked at it and said, 'You know what, what you're doing for yourself could be applicable and helpful for other coaches, too.'
"They say most decent ideas and innovation come from somebody doing it out of a direct need for themselves."
After four seasons with
the Buffalo Bills, Coiner decided he was sick of letting his job dictate where he would live. His decision to move to Austin in 2010 was simple. He'd been there before and he liked what he saw.
Intentionally or not, Coiner had stumbled upon a thriving hub for technology-based start-ups. He shared his idea with a few of his closest confidants and, next thing he knew, he was on the fast track toward creating his own small business.
"I said, 'I don't even know what an app is,'" Coiner said. "In a short time, I learned."
It was a relatively short time, but there was plenty to learn. Before there was FirstDown Playbook, there were countless nights inside the home of John Butler, the director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship and director of the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas.
The sessions were offered at no cost. Butler respected Coiner's dedication enough to help him find answers to all the questions that must be addressed before launching a small business.
"I want to start a company. What do I do? ... How do you take it to the market? ... Where's the market? ... How do you make it bigger?"
Butler expected nothing less from a coach, especially a football coach.
"To be successful when every play stops, you start all over again," Butler said. "If you think about that in my field of research, which is based in entrepreneurship, we're always strategizing to make things better. That's what innovation is all about. Taking old ideas and adding to them."
Coiner partnered with the Austin-based Clarus Agency to design the app. He brought on former NFL tight end Derek Schouman, whom Coiner coached during his time at Buffalo, as an adviser. All told, he's invested nearly $200,000 in the project, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
"I don't want to make light of anything I did in this off year," Coiner said. "It was a lot of work, a lot of detail and a well thought out plan that was executed."
The startup was initially delayed when Coiner retreated to Chapel Hill, N.C., for a few months to serve as a temporary defensive assistant for the 2010 season. He was replacing John Blake, who was fired for his involvement in a slew of NCAA violations, and he was satisfying his coaching fix. His last game on the sidelines before he returned to finish the project came against UT in the Music City Bowl.
"I didn't get far away from football even during that year," Coiner said. "I drew football plays on an almost daily basis."
The app was launched Jan. 6. Consumers can access 50 plays for free before paying $19.99 for access to more.
It's too early to tell, but Butler said he anticipates that the bulk of FirstDown Playbook's clients will be at the pee-wee and high school level.
"In the future," Butler said. "I expect to see a football coach walking the sidelines with an iPad rather than a piece of paper."
Before Coiner received interest for his spot at UT, an exit strategy was in place for his departure. His colleagues in Austin are currently executing the day-to-day operations of the company while he focuses exclusively on UT's special teams and tight ends.
He's doing it with an added appreciation for what it takes to succeed in the business world and far less luggage.
"I learned a lot about being able to adapt on the run; a banker here, a lawyer here, those kinds of things. It was really good for me," Coiner said. "I have an appreciation for what Coach Dooley goes through a little bit now. So many people tugging you, want this, want that. "But make no mistake about it: I'm glad to be back in coaching, I'm a coach and I hope to coach until I'm ready to retire."