Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly has had his ups and downs after taking over for Jeremy Pruitt in 2014. It's always tough to follow up a national championship, and that showed in the 2014 season. The defense followed up a No. 1 S&P defensive ranking in 2013 with a No. 40 mark in 2014. The Seminoles gave up 25.6 points per game, and were 108th in the country in sacks with just 17.
As Kelly went into his second year, there was a ton of pressure on him to produce results. His defense did just that. They allowed just 17.5 points per game all season, and allowed more than 24 points just once in 13 games. They nearly doubled their sack total with 32, and moved up to No. 10 in the S&P defensive rankings.
In the process, Kelly became one of the most animated coaches on the Florida State sideline. A lot of that had to do with him becoming more comfortable in his role.
"Just understanding the defense better and having fun out there," safety Lamarcus Brutus said before the Houston game. "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."
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wants the defense to take on Kelly's mentality because he knows what kind of coach he is and the mentality that he goes to work with every day.
“I hope so," Fisher said. "That’s what he’s in charge of, so [the players] are going to take a lot of that personality. Charles does a really good job. He loves his kids, coaches them hard and is very knowledgeable.”
Kelly has earned the respect and trust of his players, who have believed in him since the moment he took over the defense.
"I was always comfortable with him," defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi said. "He’s a great teacher. He’s a great leader. He’s a great person to learn from. He’s been doing a great job since he’s been here. Since I’ve been here. He’s been a great coach ever since I’ve been here. I feel like he’s doing a great job. Everyone getting real comfortable with him especially the new guys. So I feel like we’re going to be doing a great job with him."
Coach Fisher has known Kelly since his days at Auburn, and never doubted that he was the right man for the job. His work ethic and knowledge of the game is what sets him apart.
"First time I ever met Charles Kelly when he was a GA at Auburn and we were coaching there, I’ve always said he’s one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met in my lifetime. The work ethic he has, the respect he has from the players, other coaches, people he meets, how he treats his players, you know he’s a special guy. Then his knowledge of the game, the guy’s one heck of a football coach."
It isn't only with the Florida State players and coaches that believe in Kelly. He's done an excellent job on the recruiting trail because of how knowledgable he is. 5-star cornerback Stanford Samuels III recently visited Florida State for multiple practices and came away extremely impressed by how Kelly runs things.
“This isn’t my first time watching him in that element,” Samuels said. “It just building on to the trust and the relationship that we already have. Just watching him coach and teach those guys is great. I’ve always had my dad so I want a coach that knows how to teach the craft. That knows how to teach what they want you to do.”
This season, Kelly has one of the most talented defenses in college football to work with, and a defensive staff that has continuity as all returned from last year. He made believers out of everyone last season. We will see how he builds on last year, and, if he does, this defense will be special.