One of the downsides to being an assistant coach — getting fired just because your boss is fired — is every bit as omnipresent as it is out of your control.
Tennessee tight ends and special teams coach Charlie Coiner
Veterans like Charlie Coiner understand that.
After getting fired along with most or all of the staffs in consecutive years at his previous two stops — the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in and the University of North Carolina — the well-traveled veteran reluctantly took a brief break from coaching and started his own business. That business, 1stDown Technologies, produced an application for the iPad and iPhone that featured more than 2,500 interactive plays for team at various levels of the game.
That was just a side project, though.
Coiner always knew he’d get back into coaching — something he never wanted to leave, not even for a single season.
“I did, yeah. I had a plan to (return),” Coiner said. “Obviously, coaching’s in our blood. I wasn’t going to sit around for a year and not do anything, so the business I started was related to football, too, so it wasn’t like it was foreign to the sport of football.
“But absolutely, I’m a coach. I’ve been a coach since I got out of college, and I anticipate always being a coach.”
And now Coiner is the tight ends and special teams coach at the University of Tennessee, a program he’s always admired from afar.
“I’m learning my way around Knoxville. Great place,” Coiner said. “Obviously, I know a little bit about it from being at a couple schools that have played here before — and it wasn’t a whole lot of funny when I was here before, but a lot better now being in this building and being on this side of the fence. It’s good. I have some familiarity with some of the guys on the staff that are back, some from nearly 25 years, so it’s good to see familiar faces.
“I’m excited about being here, getting to be a part of coach (Derek) Dooley’s staff.”
Coiner, an offensive, defensive and special teams coach whose career started at Appalachian State in 1983 and continued at the University of Minnesota, Austin Peay, Vanderbilt, Texas Southern, Louisville, UT-Chattanooga and LSU before a decade in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills and one year at UNC, always knew he’d probably take the first good opportunity to return to the sideline.
He didn’t expect that call to come from Knoxville, though, despite knowing a few coaches on the Vols’ staff.
“I was a little bit surprised,” he said. “I was back in Austin. I’d been out for a year, had started my own company. But it was exciting, because it wasn’t just like any school calling. It was the University of Tennessee, and I know about this place, and it’s one of the top schools in the nation, so, yeah, I got fired up about it.”
And he’s still fired up about it, the coach continued.
“You get back in the saddle very quickly,” Coiner said. “We just got through working upstairs with coach (Jim) Chaney, and I’ve been looking at the special teams a little bit. There’s a lot to do. There’s a lot of work for me to catch up on.
“I’m back doing what I need to be doing — put it that way.”
One conversation with the 51-year-old Coiner quickly revealed how much he’d missed coaching.
UT head football coach Derek Dooley
“It’s not hard (being) in that room,” he said. “You asked me the question about bonding: It’s the guys. It’s the community. It’s the fellowship that you’ve got, everybody pulling together, being on the same page when you walk out of a room. And then, what you do is you take that to the football team, and they need to act the same way.
“Everybody needs to be together and working toward one mission.”
The assistant said his sabbatical wasn’t simply a lost year, though.
He said he learned some lessons during his absence from the daily grind of high-level coaching.
“The one thing that was different about the business part of it was that you did not have the structure that you do in football,” he said. “We (coaches) typically have a structure — 8 o’clock meeting, recruiting this time — boom, boom, boom. In the business world, it was a little bit different from the standpoint of you might be wearing not only a lot of different hats, but you weren’t always sure where you were going to wear them or what time you would wear them. But that was good for me.
“I can appreciate a little bit of coach Dooley’s seat a little bit better from a standpoint of having a lot of different people tugging at you for a lot of different things, so it was good for me.”
Coiner conceded that UT having six new assistants despite the lack of a head-coaching change was a bit unusual, but he said he’s worked with some of the Vols’ coaches and knows some of them despite never sharing a sideline. He also said those on the staff he didn’t know had worked with people he knows well.
In other words, according to Coiner, chemistry won’t be a problem.
“We’re not total strangers,” he said. “We knew of each other. We’ve seen each other at combines or whatnot, and one of the questions here earlier was, ‘What did you miss most about it?’ Well, the part I missed most about it is what you’re asking about — the part where seven or eight guys get in a staff room and come together and form a plan, and everybody locks arms and does that. And then hopefully what you do is you carry that over to your team. That’s actually the part, having missed that the most, it’s the easiest. You get in there and you’re happy to be a part of something.
“It was great. It was a great experience to go be a part of my own business and do all that. But the part that I missed most was the camaraderie and the fellowship that you had, so I don’t see that being a problem at all.
“And I also know four of the coaches very well on the staff — worked with them before.”
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