BOULDER, CO: March 2: Defensive Coordinator/Safety, Charles Kelly, University of Colorado Buffaloes Football Coach on February 2, 2023. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Before he even steps onto 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 you have to do before you ever talk about a defensive decision or a defensive play is find the people that are going to compete,” Kelly said during a Thursday news conference. “The only way to do that is to put people in competitive situations and create competition.”

CU doesn’t start spring practice until March 19, but Kelly and staff have already begun learning about the competitive nature of players through things like tug-of-war during practice.

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

“What you find out is that people are inherently competitive or not, and what you have to do is figure out, ‘He is, he isn’t,’ and then mold these young men from there. But being competitive is the most important thing, I think, because that will teach them a value that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

In nearly 35 years as a coach, Kelly has won many competitions and is looking forward to taking 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 brought Kelly from Alabama, where Kelly was assistant defense coordinator for four years.

Kelly’s career has taken him to many places including Tennessee, Florida State and Georgia Tech, but he’s grateful for his four seasons 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 he’s the greatest of all time. He’s very intelligent, very smart, but he’s very disciplined. And what I learned from the coach is to be consistent in everything you do.

“I think when you work with people you undoubtedly take things from them that are trying to help you in the future and I definitely will. I also understand that you cannot copy anyone. You have to have your own personality.”

While CU would love to replicate the success Alabama has had on defense over the years, Kelly and his staff and the CU players will come up with their own plan.

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

What that looks like can change from game to game. Kelly said he believes collegiate defenses need to be multiple due to the variety of offenses in the collegiate game.

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

“As for our identity, I tell people all the time that we’re going to build our defense based on Coach Prime’s expectations 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 defense. We want to be an offensive defense.”

When Kelly, 55, played at Auburn in the late 1980s, Colorado had that kind of defense and was one of the elite programs in the country. Alabama native Kelly, who has lived his entire life in the South, now hopes to give some of that glory back to the buffs.

“[Former CU assistant coach Greg Brown]was one of my first mentors as a young coach, so I’ve always been fascinated by Colorado heritage,” he said.

“When that opportunity came up – you make decisions based on people – and when Coach Prime got that job, I had no hesitation. I knew they would have a chance to be very special and I wanted to be a part of it.”

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