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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
KNOXVILLE — Charlie Coiner says he "always enjoyed the X-and-O part" of coaching, and although the former Derek Dooley assistant hasn't coached since Tennessee's 2012 finale, he hasn't left football. The 30-year-coaching veteran is the founder of FirstDown PlayBook, a digital playbook program that will launch a second, more user-friendly version on Jan. 6 as part of the annual American Football Coaches Association in San Antonio, Texas.
What is FirstDown PlayBook?
Coiner made stops with numerous NFL and college teams during a nomadic coaching career that included stops at Austin Peay, Vanderbilt and UT-Chattanooga. He accumulated playbook after playbook. If he wanted to consult a play from a past coaching stop, he'd have to dig into his binders to find it.
"I had probably 17 boxes of playbooks moving from city to city," said Coiner, a Waynesboro, Va., native who lives in Knoxville.
He figured there had to smarter way that embraced technology.
Coiner, 58, envisions his company as a revolutionary approach for playbooks that will make PDF play diagrams and drawing plays from scratch a thing of the past.
"We want to be kind of like the Google of football plays," Coiner said, "to where instead of going online, you're like, 'Let's go check FirstDown PlayBook and see what they've got.'"
Coiner wants FirstDown PlayBook to become for playbooks what Hudl became for game film. Hudl made sharing and viewing game film as easy as a few clicks of the mouse — no more physical exchange of game film required.
"We've kind of modeled ourselves a little bit after what they've done," Coiner said, "except we're digital playbooks and they are obviously digital video."
Coiner launched the first installment of FirstDown PlayBook in 2015. The program can be accessed via computer or smart device. It includes plays for youth football, flag football and varsity football (designed for ages 13 and up). There are plays for offense, defense and special teams.
The program currently includes about 35,000 plays, and with new uploads three times a week, that number will grow. Plays are organized by concept.
The company employs about a half-dozen people. Coiner and his other play drawers, all of whom have NFL coaching experience, draw plays using Microsoft Visio and upload them into the database for subscribers to access.
A user clicks through the interface to find a play they want. Users can build their own playbook by adding plays from the general database into a personal playbook, and they can personalize play names.
Each digital play diagram is accompanied by a detailed description of what each player's assignment is. For offensive plays, the user can toggle between five defensive fronts, and the play will adjust to block up against each front.
Say you like a play but you don't like the direction it is designed? You can flip it to the other direction.
"This is the best website on the planet for plays, I promise you that," Coiner said.
Coiner said the company has about 5,000 subscribers, with individual subscriptions at $99.99 per year or a 15-person staff package for $350.
What's coming in version 2.0?
When Coiner shows his product to someone new, their reaction usually comes in two waves.
First, they're impressed by the technology and the number of plays at their fingertips. And then comes the question: Can a user take a play and edit it to fit their system?
Say a coach sees a pass play he likes, but he wants to move the quarterback from under center to shotgun, or he wants to move a tight end into the slot, can he do that?
Not in the current installment, but the ability to edit and personalize plays is coming to users in the second version.
"There are so many coaches that really have been asking for this tool in the last couple of years," said Mike Singletary, the NFL Hall of Fame linebacker and coach of the Memphis squad in the Alliance of American Football.
Singletary found Coiner's product as an interested user and became a partner in the company.
"The fact that we're going to be able to have this and offer this, I think it's going to be gigantic," Singletary added, "because every coach wants to put his own spin on the play and call it his. That's just the nature of a coach. To be able to do that I think is really cool."
Coaches will be able to create secure playbooks that their staff and players can access within the restriction parameters the coach sets up.
Coiner sees it as a win on multiple fronts. One, coaches save time by not having to draw plays from scratch. Instead, coaches can find the framework of the play they want by searching the database and make the necessary tweaks to finalize the play.
Two, players can study their playbook in a format that will feel familiar.
"Playing 'Madden' video games, this is what they're used to," Singletary said. "So when they look at FirstDown PlayBooks, they're like, 'Oh, man, this is what I've seen all my life.'"
How the company started, where it's going
Coiner rolled out the precursor to FirstDown PlayBook in 2012, shortly before joining Dooley's staff. Dubbed FirstDown PlayBook DropBack, it included 5,200 pass plays.
Coiner doesn't intend for this 2019 revision to be the last. He foresees the next step syncing up biometric monitoring with the playbook to produce analytical feedback on plays. He also envisions a fan element in which fans could participate while watching a game by choosing plays from FirstDown PlayBook that they'd like to see their team run and comparing the result of the actual play the coach called to how the fan's choice would've fared.
Coiner launched his company in Austin, Texas, and he is working with Austin developers to get his product ready for its January update. He moved back to Knoxville in 2016 for personal reasons.
Coiner lives in a condominium complex on the southern banks of the Tennessee River. In clear view across the water is Neyland Stadium, a reminder of his coaching career.
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