It's no secret that Florida State's 2014 defense wasn't where it was supposed to be in 2014, and many questioned whether on not first year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly was the right man for the job. The defense, fresh off a dominating 2013 performance, gave up 25.6 points per game in 2014. Kelly heard the criticism, but didn't pay much attention to it.
"...The one thing about coaching is this, a lot of guys say it: I can promise you this – nobody can be more critical outside than I’ll be on myself," Kelly said. "I mean, we weren’t happy the way we played a lot of times. I do think there were times when you could see spots where, OK, we’ve got a chance to be better in this area. All I know is this: What you can do as a coach, you can go to work every day, work as hard as you can work, prepare as hard as you can prepare, coach those kids as hard as you can coach them. And if I do that, at the end of the week, if I know I can do that, I can live with the results. Now do we want the results to be better (than last year)? Absolutely. Especially in a lot of situations. But again, I think that’s just the game that we’re in nowadays. If you can’t handle criticism, it’s hard to do this job."
Kelly turned the defense around in the 2015 season with the Seminoles giving up just 15.8 points per game, and, after giving up the 25-plus points per game last season, have not given up 25 points to any team this season. Kelly refused to take the credit for the turn around pointing out all the guys around him that made the turn around possible.
"That is a credit to – not just me," Kelly said. "That’s a credit to this coaching staff. That’s a credit to that defensive staff. Their name doesn’t get out there as much. I mean, Odell Haggins, Brad Lawing, Bill Miller, Addison Lynch, Jeremiah Wilson. All those guys that are there on a daily basis. All these players. People wouldn’t talk about me if it weren’t for a lot of other people. And I truly believe that. But yeah, that’s kind of the way it goes. But that goes back to your question, I’ve tried to kind of just stay the same way, no matter which way it’s going."
Even with all the coaches and players helping him out it's clear that Kelly progressed as a defensive coordinator. Redshirt senior defensive back Lamarcus Brutus believes it's a product of Kelly having more fun out there.
"Just understanding the defense better and having fun out there," Brutus said. "People have mentioned that you can see him on the side line getting fired up when players make big plays. I think it’s just him becoming more confident and more relaxed. Being able to have fun out there. The players trust and believe in him and he trusts and believes in the players."
Redshirt senior linebacker Terrance Smith has also seen the progression in coach Kelly, but believes it's due to a different reason.
"Just probably a comfort level," Smith said. "Coming off a National Championship to take the reins of a defense like that, it's a lot of pressure. We did pretty good. We ended up losing one game. Just his comfort level. He seems to be a lot more sure of what we were doing. Last year we were still trying to run Pruitt's system, but this year we ran Kelly's system. Kelly's system has paid off for us."
Kelly himself believes that his progression as a defensive coordinator comes down to him having more trust in the people around him.
"“I think first of all, your success in any leadership role is being able to trust the people around you," Kelly said. "Jimbo hires people to do a job and he expects them to do the job. Me in a leadership position, not that I intentionally did it, I probably trusted the people around me. Just working together for another year. Whether it be up front, whether it be the linebacker position or in the secondary, just when you work together a long time you develop that chemistry. And we have great chemistry as a staff. You probably heard me say that two years ago as a special teams coordinator, that year was one of the most unselfish coaching staffs I’ve ever been around. And I have that same feel right now. The biggest difference is just letting guys do what they do and I couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.”
Whatever the reason for the progression is, it has clearly paid off in Florida State's favor.