The case for Florida State’s Charles Kelly


This is the latest from @Res4Six. Florida State fans should enjoy this read on Defensive Coordinator Charles Kelly.


Florida State has returned to the prominence it once saw at the end of the preceding millennium. Over the past five seasons and three games of 2015, FSU has a record of 61 wins and 11 loses. Over the last three seasons (not including this yeart) they are 39-3. This type of success raises the standards to which a fan base holds its coaches accountable, and rightfully so.

Winning is addictive and like any drug, the addict develops a tolerance over time. After prolonged exposure to the narcotic, the fun wears off and the highs don’t quite feel as euphoric as they once were. Soon the effects become nothing more than an emotional baseline the user needs to function day to day. Winning turns casual fans hardcore. Hardcore addicts are insatiable. Anyone who has personally dealt with their own addiction or that of a family member can tell you, when an addict is off his horse, even for a brief period, he or she will become criminally irrational and violent. The only thing that can restore peace in their soul is another fix.

I n Pasadena, ‘Nole fans crashed from the high of a stimulating season.  After two methadone doses this season in the form of USF and Texas State, sizable portions of the demographic have turned on each other. They are gouging one another’s eyes out over petty riffs regarding high school players and their verbal commitments to the program five months removed from the signing of binding contracts. Others have directed the symptomatic rage of withdraw at their suppliers, the FSU coaching staff.

No one has the audacity to directly callout Jimbo Fisher. He has the best product on the block. Were he to take over a new territory the dragon would fly with him. The fan base knows all too well what the aftermath of that looks like. They need gaze no further than Gainesville or Miami to see their future condition should Jimbo take his dope and set up shop elsewhere. But the rage has to be directed somewhere, so instead the fiends have turned on Jimbo’s second in command, Charles Kelly. Is this wrath deserved? Let’s take a look.

I’ve created a rubric, a tangible medium, by which to compare Kelly’s performance to two other similar subjects. Conveniently, FSU has had three Defensive Co-coordinators the last three preceding seasons. This study attempts to go deeper than the knee jerk conclusion:

“Last year the defense stunk so Kelly is a bad coach and he needs to go.”

In order to gained a more accurate assessment of a particular coach’s performance it is necessary to explore all controllable variables and hold as many constant when comparing him to others. I will analyze each coordinator’s first year at the position. The subjects of this analysis will be Mark Stoops (2010 DC/CB), Jeremy Pruitt (2013 DC/CB), Charles Kelly (2014 DC).

I have identified three main variables that cut across the board for all subjects: Talent on the two-deep roster, game situations, and experience.


Subject One: Mark Stoops

a.) Number of experienced starters* on the roster: EIGHT –Stoops inherited four senior returning starters:  Markus White, Jacobbi McDaniel, Mister Alexander, Kendall Smith, Nigel Bradham, Greg Reid, Nick Moody, Ochuko Jenije,

b.) Number of blue chip (4 star or higher) first time starters: TWO – Brandon Jenkins- 4 Star, Everett Dawkins- 4 star

c.) Number of blue chip players in key reserve roles: FOUR – Lamarcus Joyner – 5 Star, Demonte McAllister – 4 star, Jajuan Harley – 4 star, Mike Harris – JUCO 4star

Subject Two: Jeremy Pruitt

a.) Number of experienced starters* on the roster: SEVEN –Pruitt inherited 5 returning senior starters.

b.) Number of blue chip (4 star or higher) first time starters: SIX – Jacobbi McDaniel – 5 Star, Jalen Ramsey – 5 star, Eddie Goldman – 5 star, Mario Edwards Jr. – 5 star, PJ Williams – 4 star, Nick Waisome – 4 star

c.) Number of blue chip players in key reserve roles: SIX – Demonte McAllister – 4 star, Marquez White – 4 star, Demarcus Walker – 4 star, Chris Casher – 4 star, E.J. Levenberry – 4 star, Reggie Northrup – 4 star.

Subject Three: Charles Kelly

a.) Number of experienced starters* on the roster: SEVEN –Pruitt inherited 5 returning senior starters.

b.) Number of blue chip (4 star or higher) first time starters:  – THREE Demarcus Walker – 4 star, Derrick Nnadi – 4 star, Derrick Mitchell – 4 star

c.) Number of blue chip players in key reserve roles: TEN – Marquez White – 4 star, , Nick Waisome – 4 star, Chris Casher – 4 star, E.J. Levenberry – 4 star, Giorgio Newberry – 4 star, Reggie Northrup – 4 star, Justin Shanks – 4 star, Lorenzo Featherstone – 4 star, Jacob Pugh 4 star, Trey Marshall – 4 star

*Any player that saw significant time in at least 12 games the previous season was considered a starter and his name is in bold text above.

Stoops had eight retuning starters (four seniors) on his defense surrounded by a slew of future star frosh contributors such as Werner, Joyner, Rhodes, Reid, Jenkins, and Hicks. Some kids would become early round draft picks and/or key contributors to Pruitt’s world beaters. That being said, Stoop’s seniors were not on par to what Pruitt inherited in underclassmen talent. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say this was the least talented defense of the three.

To be fair to the other two coaches however, Stoops came into the job with six years of experience as a DC with him (2004-2009 Arizona).Pruitt was a first time coordinator and Kelly ran the Georgia Tech Defense for a few games as an interim but 2014 was his first full year in control. Nonetheless, Stoops did an adequate job with what he had. Statistically his points per game in wins was akin to Pruitt’s and on average overall he faired 7.8 points worse than Pruitt and 5.7 points better than Kelly.

In Kelly’s defense the only major starter Pruitt lost was Tyler Hunter. Also, Pruitt’s team was stacked with the upperclassmen versions of Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Christian Jones, and Terrance Brooks. The 2013 defense also enjoyed a charmed season in regard to health. On the other hand, FSU 14’ was bothered by nagging injuries and suspensions at linebacker and lost starting DT Niles Lawrence-Sample to a torn pectoral muscle in week 4. Against Louisville, a game that saw FSU yield 31 points, the Cards’ backs racked up 170 yards rushing with both Northrup and Smith sidelined. Nick Saban stated the obvious a while back when he told us, “It’s not easy to repeat as national champions.” There was a lot of scuttlebutt concerning FSU players not playing as a cohesive unit and lacking focus with their minds on the NFL. The rumors have not been accounted for in this study because getting players focused falls on the shoulders of the DC. Also, I haven’t substantiated them as anything more than gossip.

In regard to talent, there was plenty there for Kelly to succeed. Attrition and Injuries are to be expected from season to season. Some drop off in efficiency is also expected after a team wins a national title. These factors beg the question, how much drop off is defensible?

The talent disparity between the three teams supports Stoops’s team having the least success, Pruitt having the most, and Kelly having the least. Statistically, things didn’t turn out that way. If you compare the three seasons of each coordinator it is easy to see that Stoops had the roughest schedule followed by Kelly with Pruitt bringing up the rear with the softest slate.

Stoops played against 5 ranked teams going 2-3. FSU suffered 4 total loses. In the 4 loses, the defense surrendered 156 total points averaging 39 points per loss. In the 10 wins Stoop’s defense surrendered 122 total points averaging 12.2 points per loss. Pruitt’s defense averaged surrendered 170 total points over a span of 14 undefeated games averaging 12.1 points per game. Kelly on the other hand saw his defense surrender 59 points (-7 for the fumble return) the last time FSU was on the field in a soul crushing loss to Oregon. In his 13 wins however, and this is the most telling stat, his defense surrendered 299 points total averaging 23 points per game. What this tells us is that Kelly enjoyed the benefits of greater offensive production to go 13-1.

The analysis doesn’t end here. Take this time to imagine what other factors could possible justify such a poor statistical output or if Kelly can be defended at all. Check back with me at FSUInsiders tomorrow as we look together at any other possible defenses. I will also give my conclusion as to whether Charles Kelly should be on the hot seat this season.

In the first half of The Defense of Charles Kelly we analyzed the talent Stoops, Pruitt, and Kelly inherited in their first year as FSU Defensive Coordinators. We also considered injuries, attrition, and previous coaching experience. But that is just the paper analysis and if teams won championships on paper Georgia would have at least 4 championships since 1980. Georgia hasn’t won a title since 1980. Therefore, I have determined the aforementioned factors cannot justify the drop off we have witnessed during the transition from Pruitt to Kelly. It was just too steep of a decline in production to blame on defensive personnel turnover, especially with the number of players taken in the first three rounds of Kelly’s defense. Even more damming is that when you compare Kelly to Stoops, the coach with less talent and a tougher schedule had his defense outperform last year’s group.

The question remains, how did we get so little from a defense that promised so much?

In life you usually don’t finish well if you start poorly. Despite what you have been sold about the American Dream and the notion that a dollar and some hard work can make you a millionaire, most people born poor will die that way. The same can be said for starting field position on the football field. FSU ranked 100th nationally in opponent’s starting field position (OSFP). When analyzing OSFP it’s not surprising that, nationally, FSU 14’ finished 63rd in total defense, 50th in scoring defense, 60th in pass defense, and 73rd in rushing defense. Let us compare where Kelly started to his more fortunate counterparts.

In 2010 Stoops enjoyed the 6th best OSFP and Pruitt lucked into having the second best in the country. This is a huge disparity between the three coaches and cannot be dismissed lightly. Any football fan worth his pitcher of beer knows that OSFP is a huge predictive factor of how a defense will perform. The math is easy to comprehend. The more times an offense has to pick up ten yards to continue a drive, the harder it is to score. The shorter the field the offense starts with, the less times they need to get ten yards, the higher the chances are the score board changes.

Factors that contribute to poor OSFP are the inability to sustain offensive drives, offensive turnovers, and poor special teams’ production.

To understand why Kelly faced such horrible OSFP, the way the ‘Noles offense performed must be considered. Long methodical drives keep a defense fresh and swing momentum. An offense that can sustain drives by racking up first downs is a huge benefit to a defense. The good folks atfootballoutsiders.com have put together a helpful offensive efficiency metric to assist the analytically minded:

OE: Offensive Efficiency, the raw unadjusted efficiency of the given team’s offense, a measure of its actual drive success against expected drive success based on field position.

Expected Drive Success:
FSU 14’ ranked 40th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency. Guess where FSU 13’ was ranked? Did you say number 1 in the country? Of course you did, and you were correct. As for 2010’ FSU ranked 39th.

Noticing a trend yet? I’m not saying Pruitt is the guy that was born on third and brags about hitting a triple, but he did receive a Lamborghini as a sweet 16 present. We will get into that later, but for now, let us look to the amount of times the offense put the defense in troubled waters by giving the ball away.

In 2014 the offense turned the ball over 32 times. In 2010, the offense coughed it up 23 times and in 2013 the offense only suffered 18 turnovers. I’ll do that math for you:

Kelly had to deal with 9 more turnovers than Stoops and 14 more turnovers than Pruitt.

To put those numbers in perspective, the offense had almost twice as many turnovers while Kelly was the coach then when Pruitt was there. Compared to Kelly Stoops only had to deal with 71% of the turnovers that Kelly dealt with. Again, we find Stoops in the middle. Based on roster talent we expected to find Kelly in the middle but just as we see here, Stoops again is centered between the other two coaches as we analyze this variable.

Simply going off of raw OSFP data would be a hackneyed endeavor. The same is true for merely pointing to offensive turnovers as the driving factor behind poor OSFP numbers. The more factors analyzed the more powerful the argument. There are three units to a football team, offense, defense, and special teams. If you don’t think special teams are important you must have been born before Wide Right I – III and Wide Left. Kickoff and punt returns start the offense in advantageous or disadvantageous field position. On the flip side of the coin, kick and punt coverage start the defense in advantageous or disadvantageous field position. Let us look at the numbers:

2014 FSU Kick Off Returns:  49 for 971 yards with a 19.82 average and zero scores
2014 Opponent Kick Off Returns: 45 for 846 yards/ 18.80 avg./ 0 TD
2014 FSU Punt Returns: 17 for 179 yards/ 10.53 avg./ 0 TD
2014 Opponent Punt Returns: 13 for 92 yards/ 7.08 avg./ 0 TD

2013 FSU Kick Returns: 31 for 873 yards/ 28.16 avg./ 2 TD
2013 Opponent Kick Returns: 70 for 1301 yards/ 18.59 avg./ 0 TD
2013 FSU Punt Returns: 34 for 340 yards/ 10.0 avg./ 0 TD
2013 Opponent Punt Returns: 14 for 237 yards/ 16.93 avg./ 0 TD

2010 FSU Kick Returns: 57 for 1169 yards/ 20.51 avg./ 0 TD
2010 Opponents Kick Return: 39 for 837 yards/ 21.46 avg./ 0 TD    
2010 FSU Punt Returns: 33 for 318 yards/ 9.64 avg./ 1 TD
2010 Opponents Punt Returns: 21 for 143 yards/ 6.81 avg/ 0

Working for Kelly we see that the kick return numbers for 2014 were dismal. FSU finished 88th overall in the NCAA. Alternatively, we see that Pruitt enjoyed a freakish statistically windfall. In 2013 FSU averaged 28 yards per return (#1 in the Nation) compared to 19.82 for the 2014 squad. That means that the 2013 offense routinely started around 8 yards closer to the end zone than the 2014 team. You may say 8 yards is insignificant, but this is a game of inches and 8 yards usually spotted the FSU offense an extra first down on every drive. Add to that the fact that the 2013 offense had the benefit of Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, Matt Stork, Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Junior and an extra 8 yards per drive is criminal.

Working against Kelly in this variable however was Cason Beatty’s underwhelming (I’m being nice) performance at punter. Pruitt’s defense started out with field positon more than twice as disadvantageous as both Stoops and Kelly combined. Thankfully however, FSU only punted 14 times in 2013.

While punting was awful in 201, Pruitt enjoyed the benefit of only sending his defense out on the field after 18 momentum killing turnovers as compared to 32 for Kelly and 23 times for Stoops. In fairness to Kelly, his defense’s ability to hold ground after 14 Cason Beatty shanks cannot be ignored.

Stoops falls in the middle of the two coaches, but not by much. All of the 2010 averages were similar to 2014’s with the exception of Opponents kick returns which were almost 3 yards greater than Kelly’s

The field position argument is the strongest argument for Charles Kelly. Also working in his favor is the fact that in 2013 Pruitt enjoyed the services of Charles Kelly in the position of line backers and special teams coach. The special teams that gave the offense great starting field position (#1 in the nation) as well as a group of linebackers that played out of their minds. Pruitt handled the defense and the secondary, as did Kelly but Kelly did not have the advantage of having Charles Kelly as the ST coach and the LB coach. Those two positions were Achilles heals for the defense in 2014 as the kick return unit struggled as well as the linebackers.

Finally, we will look at two variables that fall under the control of the coordinator, explosive plays and 3rd and 4th down conversions by opposing offenses. These statistics do not bode well for Kelly, especially explosive plays.

Mark Stoops: 174 plays for +10 yards, 50 for +20, 23 for +30, 10 for +40, 6 for +50, 3 for +60, and 2 for +70.
Jeremy Pruitt: 144 plays for +10 yards, 37 for +20, 12 for +30, 6 for +40, 6 for +50, 2 for +60, and 1 for +70.
Charles Kelly: 201 plays for +10 yards, 68 for +20, 26 for +30, 11 for +40, 6 for +50, 2 for +60, and 1 for +70.

It is not hard to see that Kelly’s defense surrendered way more explosive plays than Pruitt across the 10 to 40-yard range and significantly more than Stoops from the 10 to 20 range. There isn’t much to analyze here. We have discussed the level of roster talent, attrition, injuries, field position, and coaching experience. Giving explosive plays on defense is more than a black eye that can be covered with big Hollywood shades, it’s a broken jaw.

The number of explosive plays given up by Kelly’s unit may be attributed in part to injuries but that is a weak argument, all things considered. The real driving force behind the disparity of back breaking big plays between Kelly and Pruitt in the 10 to 30-yard range can be attributed mainly to the 14’ squad’s lack of a pass rush. Kelly’s defense sacked the quarterback 17 times. Pruitt had more than double Pruitt’s numbers in 13’ with 35 and Stoops generated a whooping 48 sacks in 2010. The 2010 defense, led by Brandon Jenkins’s 13.5 sacks enjoyed the lion’s share of it’s success from pressuring the QB. Pruitt’s defense caused havoc on almost every passing down by disguising blitzes that came from all over the field. Kelly’s defense however, simply could not get to the QB. In Kelly’s defense, he dealt with a significant number of injuries to key pass rushers and he didn’t have the luxury of sending Lamarcus Joyner and Jalen Ramsey off the edges alternatively. That being said a total of 17 sacks is very hard to defend.

Success rates on 3rd Downs:
3rd Down Attempts: 222      3rd Down Conversions: 92       Percentage: 41.44%  National Rank: 75
3rd Down Attempts: 213     3rd Down Conversions: 68       Percentage: 31.92       National Rank: 8
3rd Down Attempts: 212     3rd Down Conversions: 93       Percentage: %43.87    National Rank: 106

3rd down conversion rates give a good indicator of a defensive coordinator’s overall performance. The overall number shows how effective a defense was at forcing offenses into dreaded do or die situations. Then looking to the percentage of successful conversions shows how many deaths the defense racked up.

The only confounding variable that may skew that number is turnovers on 1st and 2nd downs. This study is limited in that turnovers on 1st and 2nd down are not accounted for due to the difficulty of retrieving that data game by game, over three seasons. The best I can do is provide the total number of turnovers each unit produced respectively.

Total Turnovers
Stoops: 27
Pruitt: 35
Kelly: 26

You see that Stoops and Kelly’s number are almost the same and Pruitt’s defense forced more than both units. The high number of turnovers forced by Pruitt’s team combined with their #1 ranking in the country is an indicator that his low number of 3rd down attempts can be attributed to turnovers forced on earlier downs.

These numbers do not bode well at all for Charles Kelly. FSU 14′ was ranked 106th in the country in getting the offense back on the field. Stoops faced a much harder slate of games with less talent and still finished well 31 spots higher than Kelly. Pruitt’s defense was dominant on 3rd downs as well as getting the offense back on the field via turnovers.

The main factor to be considered in looking at this particular data set, is that Kelly’s unit lacked a consistent pass rush for most of the season. This allows opposing offense to put themselves in much closer distance intervals on third down. Stoop’s team generated pressure but lacked great defensive backs that season. It is not far-fetched to think that the 10′ sack totals contribute significantly to  the difference in national ranking between it and the 14′ unit.

We can see that Coach Kelly dealt with significantly more injuries than the other two coaches but he also had more blue chip talent waiting in the wings. He dealt with horrendous field position and did not benefit from an offense that efficiently sustained drives. The offense committed way more momentum killing, field positioning flipping offensive turnovers than his two predecessors, significantly more than Pruitt. In 14’ the Offense was notorious for slow starts. Slow starts keep games close and allow teams to stick to a balanced attack which keeps defense coordinators on their toes and forces them to be reactionary rather than aggressive. Kick coverage units did not provide any pop for FSU last season either which was another contributing factor to OSFP. Also, Kelly wasn’t his own linebackers/special teams coach, a benefit that Pruitt received.

Coach Pruitt on the other hand, inherited a defense loaded with veteran leadership and blue chip underclassman talent. His defense enjoyed near invincibility status as he only lost one starter in a position of ridiculous depth. Pruitt received the benefit of the 2nd best OSFP in the country. He only dealt with18 offensive giveaways which provided him a direct benefit to which he had zero contribution. His defense further benefited from Charles Kelly’s #1 ranked special teams’ production. The 13’ FSU offense also ranked #1 in offensive efficiency, keeping the defense fresh and jumping out to huge leads forcing opposing offenses to become one dimensional passing attacks. This allowed his defensive play calling to become extremely aggressive affording him to get creative with his highly efficient blitz packages that wreaked havoc on opposing offenses. Pruitt’s success at FSU was epic. Make no doubt about it. But like Obama said, “You didn’t build that.” No sir, Pruitt had the benefit of being handed well developed blue chip talent heading in to their senior and junior seasons, a great group of assistant coaches that included Charles Kelly himself, and God’s blessing of almost immortal health. Not to mention the most efficient Offense in the country and #1 ranked special teams unit supporting his defense.

Coach Stoops was a sort of control variable for this study. He came in with 6 years of experience under his belt as a DC. He did not inherit the stocked cupboards like the other two coaches. He also ran a different scheme than Kelly and Pruitt’s similar system. Stoops is the baseline for what a successful incoming DC should look like. Pruitt’s raw data was much better than Stoops’ and Kelly’s was lesser. However, as we examined all the variables as to why this is so, neither Stoops nor Kelly enjoyed the windfalls and support staff that Pruitt did.

Is Kelly on the hot seat this year? Not if we compare him to Pruitt. Pruitt is an outlier that anyone would come up short against. But what about when we compare him to Stoops? I would say yes; Kelly does not compare well to Stoops. Stoops had a tougher schedule, less talent, and similar offensive and special team’s production. The only thing that he did not suffer to the extent that Kelly did was injury and OSFP woes. Stoops is what you can reasonably expect from your new incoming coordinator, Kelly did not live up to that expectation.

I personally don’t think that Coach Fisher considers Kelly to be “on the hotseat.” It seems that Jimbo wants a DC that wants to stick around at FSU long-term and Kelly could be that guy. He also proved his worth as an assistant coach, paid his dues, and earned his spot. One bad year is too small of a sample size to make an accurate assessment of a coordinator’s capabilities, especially a season like last year plagued by so many undesirable confounding variables that were out of Kelly’s control. All that being said, if we see a repeat performance of last season even with all of the roster turnover and youth, Kelly better update his resume. After all, we the fans are the consumers and make no mistake about, this is all business. We are addicts of rabid proportions. We don’t care to hear about supply or manufacturing problems, we just want the strong dope. We have all felt the supreme high of dominance, be it the 90s or 2013, and we will settle for nothing less powerful than that rush.

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