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Football: Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly brings competitive nature to CU Buffs

Colorado first-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly talks at a recent news conference in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado first-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly talks at a recent news conference in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Before he ever gets on the field with the Colorado Buffaloes, new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly wants to find out something about the nature of his players.

“The first thing before you ever talk about a defensive call or play is you’ve got to find the people that will compete,” Kelly said during a press conference on Thursday. “So the only way to do that is to put people in competitive situations and instill competition.”

CU doesn’t begin spring practices until March 19, but Kelly and the staff have already started to learn about the competitive nature of the players through things such tug of war during workouts.

“Everything you do has to be competitive every day, because that’s gonna affect these young men the rest of their lives, because you’ve got to compete the rest of your life,” said Kelly, who will also coach safeties.

“What you find out is people, by nature, are competitive or they aren’t and what you have to do is find out, ‘He is, he’s not’ and then mold those young men from there. But being competitive, I think, is the No. 1 thing because that’s going to teach them a value that’s going to last them for the rest of their life.”

In nearly 35 years of coaching, Kelly has won a lot of competitions and he’s eager to take on his latest role in transforming a CU defense that was one of the worst in the country last year.

First-year head coach Deion Sanders plucked Kelly from Alabama, where Kelly was the associate defensive coordinator for four years.

Kelly’s career has taken him to a lot of places, including Tennessee, Florida State and Georgia Tech, but he’s grateful for his four seasons of learning under Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work with Nick Saban,” Kelly said. “I think there’s no doubt he’s proven that he’s the greatest of all time. He is very intelligent, very smart, but he’s very disciplined. And what I learned from coach is to be consistent in everything you do.

“I think when you work with people, there’s no doubt that you take things from them that try to help you in the future and I will definitely do that. I also understand you can’t copy anybody. You have to have your own personality.”

While CU would love to duplicate the success that Alabama has had on defense over the years, Kelly and his staff and the CU players will develop their own plan.

“This is going to be Colorado’s defense; this is going to be our defense,” Kelly said. “That’s what we want it to be, but we have to establish the criteria and we have establish our identity and we have to do that consistently.”

How that looks could change from game to game. Kelly said he believes college defenses have to be multiple because of the variety of offenses in the college game.

“We want to be able to adjust to things from week to week,” he said.

“As far as our identity, I tell people all the time we’re gonna build our defense based off of what Coach Prime’s expectations are and he says it all the time. We want to be big, we want to be physical, we want to be disciplined, we want to be fast, we want to be tough. So, we want to be an aggressive style defense. We want to be an attacking defense.”

When Kelly, 55, played at Auburn in the late 1980s, Colorado had that type of defense and was one of the elite programs in the country. An Alabama native who has spent his entire life in the South, Kelly is now hoping to restore some of that glory to the Buffs.

“(Former CU assistant coach Greg Brown) was one of my early mentors as a young coach, so I’ve always been fascinated with the tradition of Colorado,” he said.

“When this opportunity came up – you make decisions based off of people – and when Coach Prime got this job, there was no hesitation for me. I knew it was something that they were going to have a chance to be very special and I wanted to be a part of it.”