The Vols are coming off a 2011 season that saw them finish dead last among the 12 SEC teams in gross punting (37.8 yards) and net punting (34.4 yards). Michael Palardy ranked ninth in field-goal percentage at 64.3, going nine of 14 overall and just four of nine beyond 28 yards. Tennessee was sixth in kickoff coverage (45.1 yards net) and sixth in punt returns (8.1 yards). The only area in which the Big Orange finished in the upper third of the conference rankings was in kickoff returns ... fourth at 22.7 yards.
After watching video of Tennessee's 2011 games, however, new special-teams coordinator Charlie Coiner is encouraged.
"It is obvious to me, particularly in the cover teams, that there's a lot of emphasis put on special teams here," he said recently. "There's a lot of bright spots. I'm excited about that part of it."
The key elements of Tennessee's special teams all return — Palardy, punter Matt Darr and return specialist Devrin Young. The Vols' new signing class includes another kicker (George Bullock) and two more return-specialist candidates (Quenshaun Watson, Cordarrelle Patterson).
Because he joined the Vol staff in late January, Coiner knows nothing about any of these guys except what he has seen on film.
"I'm trying to watch so I'll be familiar with this guy and that guy," he said. "It's my job to catch up. They've got a system established here. I'll say this: There's a lot of good things on special teams. A lot of good work has been done here. It's my job to know them, so when I get to the football field I'm not totally in the dark."
As special-teams coordinator Coiner will develop and implement Tennessee's coverage and return schemes. Given how erratic Palardy and Darr were last fall, they may need someone to work with them on being confident and technically sound. Eric Russell did not handle this duty during his two-year stint as Tennessee's special-teams coach. Whether Coiner works with the kickers on an individual basis remains to be seen.
|Special teams coordinator Charlie Coiner must find out how freshman George Bullock (pictured) can help the Vols this fall.|
Coiner brings a diverse background to his new job as Tennessee's special-teams coordinator and tight ends coach. In 14 years as a college assistant he coached offensive line, defensive line, tight ends, linebackers, special teams and quarterbacks. Moving to the NFL, he served the Bears as an offensive assistant (2001-03) and special teams assistant (2004-2005). He spent 2006-09 as tight ends coach and special teams assistant for the Buffalo Bills, then returned to college ball as a defensive assistant at North Carolina in 2010. His final game, oddly enough, was the Tar Heels' double-overtime defeat of Tennessee in the 2010 Music City Bowl.
Coiner left coaching in 2011 but didn't leave football. With the help of some experts from the Apple Corporation, he devised a computer software application that basically illustrates every play under the sun. It's called First Down Playbook.
"It isn't like I got entirely away from football," Coiner said. "I had a lot of football ideas, ideas for the dropback passing game, that I was trying to get organized for myself to be honest. Living in Austin, Texas, a big software place, people looked at it and said, 'You've got an application here.' I didn't even know what an application was. In a short time I learned. We released it on January 6, and it's doing very well."
His target audience?
"Coaches from all levels," Coiner said. "I've got some NFL coaches that have it, some college coaches. We've even got a way you can filter out all of the (complex) plays and, if you're a youth league coach, it's good for you."
During his one year in the business world Coiner discovered there was a void in his life: He missed coaching.
"The thing I missed most about it is the guys," he said. "You miss getting in a staff room and coming up with a plan, taking that plan to the team, making them understand the importance of playing together. Those are the things I miss."
Still, he has no regrets about taking a one-year hiatus from coaching to become a computer geek.
"It was a good year," he said. "You only get so many years in your life, and I wouldn't trade this past year for anything."
Even so, Coiner jumped at the chance when Dooley offered him a position on the Vol staff last month.
"Make no mistake: I'm glad to be back in coaching," Coiner said. "I'm a coach, and I hope to be a coach until I retire.
"This is what I always wanted to do. Since I was a kid I knew I wasn't good enough to be a player. I got that early, which was good for me because I wasn't. I've always wanted to be a coach, and that's what I'm doing."
To see Coiner speak on camera to media representatives at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center, click play on the video below: