Assistants in the spotlight: Florida State Seminoles


Through the first few installments of this series, we looked at assistant coaches moving into new roles for the upcoming season. While Florida State has a new coach who fits the criteria -- defensive end/outside linebackers coach Brad Lawing -- the spotlight is focused on defensive coordinator Charles Kelly.

Assistant: Charles Kelly

Title: Defensive coordinator

Why he is in the spotlight: There’s no single reason Florida State’s defensive numbers nosedived last season. First and probably foremost, there was an exodus of experienced talent in both 2012 and 2013. While there were still four future second- and third-round draft picks on the unit, the group lacked cohesion, possibly a result of senior departures from the national championship team.

Injuries tested and then exposed Florida State’s depth, as did a group of opposing quarterbacks who were among the best in the ACC and nationally.

But the talent wasn’t at the same level as 2013, and so the scoring defense dropped from No. 1 nationally in 2013 to No. 50 a season ago. There were precipitous falls in conventional statistics such as rushing defense, pass defense and sacks, and in-depth analytics tell a similar story of mediocrity.

Rarely will a fan base blame a lack of talent, especially when the program is consistently signing top-three recruiting classes. The finger will usually land in the direction of the coach(es). Add in that Kelly was in his first season as coordinator of the FSU defense -- and that he was replacing Jeremy Pruitt -- and he became the focal point of many Florida State fans’ ire even if their justifications didn’t support criticisms directed at Kelly.

Entering the 2015 season, FSU’s hope is Kelly will lead its defense back up the rankings. The issue is that once again the unit, at least as of July 2, does not have the look of one of the country’s elite defenses. Jalen Ramsey is a potential All-American, but the front seven has holes. Kelly will be tasked with doing more with less than he had in 2014.

Some of the stellar second-half acts he orchestrated need to begin at kickoff rather than halftime. There won’t be a No. 1 pick at quarterback and an offense loaded with NFL talent to pick up the slack when the defense is finding its bearings or fading this fall.

The defensive turnarounds in the second halves throughout the season are a clear indication Kelly is capable of making the needed defensive adjustments. The defense, for all of its shortcomings and criticisms, carried Florida State in some big wins. Part of that is a product of Kelly’s coaching.

This coming season, Kelly’s coaching prowess might be tested even more as another series of departures leaves the defense vulnerable and inexperienced in key areas. If Kelly can raise the defense’s stock, it would be a promising sign entering 2016 when the Seminoles’ playoff window looks as if it will reopen.