Florida State's search for a defensive coordinator is over. It didn't have to go very far. Jimbo Fisher is promoting linebackers coach Charles Kelly to the position two weeks after Jeremy Pruitt left Tallahassee for the University of Georgia. Further, Noles247 is reporting on another move: that defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri will receive the title of "assistant head coach," which will allow for a greater salary.
From the beginning, Tomahawk Nation maintained that Kelly was one of the few candidates who fit what Jimbo Fisher wants in a defensive coordinator (along with Geoff Collins of Mississippi State).
@TomahawkNation good call on Kelly. I think you came up with that the first day.— Donna Deegan (@DonnaDeegan) January 23, 2014
Kelly will move to defensive backs coach as well, which opens up a spot at linebackers coach. While Sunseri does have experience with linebackers as well, I do not expect him to move.
Kelly played defensive back in college, and has 12 years experience coaching defensive backs, plus another seven as a defensive coordinator, at Jacksonville State, Nicholls State and Georgia Tech.
Experience with defensive backs is important for Fisher, who said before hiring Pruitt in 2012 that experience in the back end of the defense was very important because of the need to match a secondary's coverage to the front a defense is playing. Experience with coaches of the Bill Belichick and Nick Saban tree are also important.
He'd also wanted a defensive coordinator with a background in defensive backs, like Saban.
"In today's game, being able to go back to front is very critical, because of the spread," Fisher said. "You have to be able to match your secondary coverages to your fronts. Who's going to fit, how they're going to fit, how you're going to handle certain play actions, how you're going to handle certain coverages. And I think it is much easier to go back to front than it is front to back. I think that knowledge is [crucial], especially the way the game is being played today, with such a spread dynamic to it."
Even so, Fisher made sure to secure the front as well, bringing on Sal Sunseri to coach defensive ends. Sunseri had been on Saban's staff for several years and was on the Carolina Panthers' Super Bowl staff. The brilliance in the hire was in recognizing that Sunseri's failure as a one-year defensive coordinator at Tennessee did not diminish his excellent track record of coaching defensive linemen and linebackers.
"That's another guy that knows [the Nick Saban defense] system," Fisher said. "So you have a front guy as well who knows it, to bridge the gap."
Fisher added Charles Kelly to coach linebackers, another coach with experience in the defensive system Saban uses. Kelly had been at Georgia Tech under Al Groh, a defensive coach who had previously been with Saban and Bill Belichick at other stops in his career. And like Sunseri, Kelly also had defensive coordinator experience at the BCS level.
"We are all off the same tree," Fisher said. "The intensity with which we coach, how hard we coach, the time we put into the game, how guys are done. And we've all had success doing it our way and winning championships. When you believe those same things, you don't have those controversies. It goes back to chemistry of staff.""I think [coming from the same background has] been a big-time advantage," Sunseri told me, noting that there is still a lot more of the defense that will be installed in Year 2. "Jeremy has done a great job, and he knew what he wanted to do, but all of us being part of the Belichick tree, because that's where this defense is all coming from, it's been pretty darn good. The experience definitely helped."
"The one thing that I was familiar with was the terminology that Jeremy uses with his coverages, and some of the pressures. Al [Groh] and I visited Alabama several times, so that gave me more insight," Kelly told me. "It's the most unselfish bunch of coaches I have ever been around. And Jeremy is a very good teacher. I know how it is being a coordinator. When something tears up, you gotta fix it within your system. But us all understanding that system helps. We had never worked together, but I knew him. I would call him and ask about the secondary when I was coaching the secondary at Georgia Tech."