ATLANTA — Charles Kelly sounded pleased when he said he has seen “fire and vinegar” from his players in his first week as Georgia Tech’s interim defensive coordinator.
Fire and vinegar?
“Just a good bit of excitement from the players as far as, whatever you do, do it wide open,” Kelly explained. “It’s taking on blocks. We’ve talked about this before, being confrontational. You want to see that.”
Coach Paul Johnson was looking for more of that confrontational spirit from his defense when he fired Al Groh as defensive coordinator on Monday. Johnson assigned Kelly, the secondary coach, control of the defense for the remainder of the season.
The midseason move was unusual, but Johnson believed dramatic action was necessary.
Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) has given up more than 40 points in three consecutive losses for the first time in school history. Last week’s 47-31 loss to Clemson followed an embarrassing 49-28 home loss to Middle Tennessee.
Kelly has had an open week to focus on fundamentals before the Yellow Jackets visit Boston College next week.
It is unclear what changes will be possible, but clearly Johnson isn’t looking for the status quo on the field with just a different coordinator on the sideline.
“We sat down as a group and we made some changes,” Johnson said. “Everybody had some input. (Kelly) is a good coach and he’ll get it organized. Everybody is on the same page about what we’re doing.”
Kelly, in his seventh year on the staff, has moved from special teams coach to cornerbacks coach to secondary coach.
Kelly’s defensive backs applauded his chance to lead the full defense.
“I’m real excited for him,” defensive back Jemea Thomas said. “Being under him since I came in Day 1, he knows what he’s doing.”
Kelly’s lead role in recruiting means he has close ties with more than just the defensive backs.
“He’s very respected around here,” linebacker Jeremiah Attouchu said. “The DBs love him as a coach. He knows what he’s talking about. He has great leadership. I feel I can trust coach Kelly.
“We’ve embraced him. We all love him. He had a hand in recruiting everybody here. We have a rapport with him, so it’s not like it’s a new kind of thing. He has great energy, a great fire. He’s young and passionate. That’s all you can ask for.”
Other assistants also have new assignments on the defensive staff. Andy McCollum moves from the line to inside linebackers. Joe Speed will coach outside linebackers instead of inside linebackers. Specials teams coordinator David Walkosky takes over the line.
“The first thing we want to be able to say is that everybody is lined up and knows where they’re going, what to do, and then it comes down to you’ve got to win,” Kelly said. “You can’t play with 12 people, you can only play with 11, so somebody has got to win and that’s what we try to emphasize.”
Kelly said Georgia Tech’s defense has enough talent.
“This game, it’s not very complicated,” he said. “There’s no magical defense. If there was, everybody would be running the same thing. It comes down to players and first of all alignment, putting your eyes in the right place and being able to play fast on every snap.
“Alignment, pursuit angles, tackling, beating blocks, that’s how you play defense. All correctable things.”
Kelly insisted his focus is not on making this more than just an interim job.
“What I’ve tried to do is focus on Georgia Tech and its players,” Kelly said. “I think if you work and do your job and do everything you can, work as hard as you can, I can live with the results.
“The main thing is coach is my boss, he’s been very good to me and my family. He asked me to do a job. He made no promises. He just asked me to do a job.”