Warren hungry to build on Indiana football’s success as defensive coordinator

The path that brought Charlton Warren to Indiana as defensive coordinator is certainly notable.

He didn’t just transition from playing football to coaching. After graduating from the Air Force Academy, the former defensive back worked as an engineer at air bases, redesigning cockpits and outfitting jets and drones with air-to-ground weaponry. He was “blowing up” things, but not opposing offenses.

When the ’99 grad transitioned to coaching in 2005, it was a quick rise from his alma mater, Air Force, through the Power 5 level as a defensive backs coach. He went from Nebraska to North Carolina, Tennessee to Florida, and then spent two years with one of the powers of the SEC, Georgia.

All of that certainly impressed IU coach Tom Allen. He was getting a smart, polished leader, who was trained in military discipline and the strength of the whole over the individual. Allen was getting a recruiter and coach who has operated within the top levels of college football, bringing “SEC eyes,” as he likes to say, to the Hoosiers.

But once you get past the engrossing resume of IU’s next defensive coordinator, it’s just a certain demeanor that makes Warren fit.

“I’m super competitive, man,” Warren said Wednesday during his introductory Zoom press conference.

“Don’t play me in checkers. I want to win.”

As the Hoosiers look to take another step defensively, Warren will bring a hungry mindset. He’s being paid handsomely to provide as much, earning $700,000 for his first season in 2021, which is the most IU has ever paid a defensive coordinator.

Allen wanted Warren, and Warren was intrigued by the prospect of continuing to build the defense Kane Wommack left behind. Given its successes in 2020, IU gained plenty of national recognition. Enough so, coaches at Georgia were catching on to IU’s “love each other” mantra, wondering what it was all about, and sharing messages of LEO with their players.

“Really was drawn to Indiana by, probably like everyone else in the country, the great spirit, the culture, the bond that these guys play with,” Warren said. “But it didn’t just happen overnight. It’s a process they went through. The growth and maturity of this team, over the years, has been amazing.”

Unlike many of Allen’s recent hires, he’s never worked on the same staff as Warren. But Allen spent years in the SEC at Ole Miss, so he had mutual connections on Georgia’s staff. For one, the Bulldogs have Matt Luke, who was the Rebels’ co-offensive coordinator when Allen was there from 2012-14.

Allen specifically pointed to former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik by name. Chizik was the defensive coordinator at North Carolina from 2015-16 and hired Warren there.

“He really had some strong thoughts about him, about Charlton, and it really resonated with me,” Allen said, “and I started the process of going deeper.”

Warren’s military background was impressive. Through the interview process, Allen was also able to get a better grasp of Warren’s football mind. He’s sharp, Allen said, and he’s a branch off the Nick Saban tree by virtue of working alongside Kirby Smart at Georgia. The Bulldogs’ defense ranked in the top 25 nationally in total defense (12th), scoring defense (16th) and takeaways (24th) last season. Cornerback Eric Stokes was a first-team All-American.

While he’s a secondary coach by trade — and the Hoosiers needed a linebackers coach — Allen sees it as a benefit to have a defensive coordinator who has a mind for the secondary and pass defense, given the dominance of passing offenses in today’s game.

Warren can learn to coach linebackers, just as Wommack did when he arrived from South Alabama in 2018.

“I’m always looking outside-in as a secondary coach, and I think that gives you a big-picture view of how everything fits. The safeties have to fit off the ‘backers, the ‘backers have always had to fit off the d-line. I’ve always had a top-down approach, an outside-in approach,” Warren said. “With Coach Allen, having a lot of experience at the linebacker position, leaning on him for some of the keys, ‘Hey, what’s some eyesight keys, what are some footwork things, what are some vision things’ to help improve them technically.”

Allen expects Warren’s first year to be similar to Wommack’s. He will probably spend ample time in linebacker position meetings, as well as with the entire defense, helping Warren adjust. One plus is that Warren has worked in defenses that have based out of a nickel formation, or with five defensive backs, so he’s familiar with IU’s concepts out of a 4-2-5 defense.

Regardless of whatever X-and-O adjustments are ahead, Allen expects Warren to be able to lead a unit well.

“If you talk about his experiences he’s had overseas, he’s been in battles, he’s fought, he’s led. Just the training you go through in that setting,” Allen said. “Commanding the room … that was one of his strengths. Can he command and capture that side of the football.”

Warren will certainly have ample pieces to work with. A defense that led the nation in interceptions returns most of its pieces, including All-Americans in linebacker Micah McFadden and cornerback Tiawan Mullen.

Warren, who has also received praise for his prowess as a recruiter, will look to build on what’s been established, as well. He talked about “getting in the ring” and “throwing punches” to recruit the best players possible. He has connections in the South, but he’s not opposed to looking anywhere for talent.

Like with a game of checkers, he’s relentless.

“For me, I can go recruit in Alaska if you need me to,” Warren said. “If the player is good enough, I’ll go there.”

23 comments

  1. As a Marine I am very glad to see a veteran as a coach for IU to lead the young men and show them how to be good men. Coach Allen knows how to bring in good coaches and Warren has a lot of experiences to be a very good DC. I hope he brings in better athletes as you have swing for the fences to hit a home run now and then. Warren has the experience of recruiting 5 star players so he knows how to get them to the team. I don’t care how many stars players have as long as they become excellent players like we have now.

    The more I find out about Warren the better I like having as our DC .

      1. H4H, your dad was a true patriot and had courage many don’t seem to have today. I am sure he faced many hardships during his service doing what many did after there service, focused on starting a family life they missed out on while away.

        WWII service brought many good changes to the USA even if it took decades to achieve. Women showed they could be in the workforce and do good job. Blacks and other minorities showed they served with honor and courage equal to any white units.

        Thanks for the Carlin link as it was good for a good laugh.

      2. Bear Down, there are many ways military services prepares you for being a DC [how I started my football career] as you have a quest to learn. Warren’s stops along the way gave him opportunity to learn about different defenses. His last stop at Georgia let him be part of a very good defense in the SEC that played a four man front often with stunts to pressure the offense.

        A lot will depend if he broke down films like I did as DB coach to learn about the defensive front. Warren seems to have the inquisitive mind to have learned a lot from his first DC work at schools that had good defenses.

        My biggest belief about him being a good DC is how time in the service teaches you to lead men.

  2. Yes, I’ve had the pleasure to work for and with men who were educated in U.S. military academies and who served as military officers. Each of them were excellent managers and great leaders. When you work for a man who served as an officer in the Green Beret and who had significant (and intense) combat experience, or one who served as an officer with the Army Rangers, you realize they have the ability to make you and your teammates believe that there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished. Their mental toughness and focus is superior and highly contagious. The only problem is that they are “fast risers” and they ascend very rapidly.

  3. PO, your comment “you realize they have the ability to make you and your teammates believe that there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished” is exactly how all Marines are taught. Being in the Marines was one of the best things in my life that drove me to do things others didn’t think I could do. I tried to instill that attitude with my teams and they proved it. Adding Warren to the defense may inspire the defense even more to excel.

    1. V13, my first boss out of IU was an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. A few years before I met him he had transitioned from active duty to the reserves and was a Lt. Colonel. He had served three tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot who had been shot down and earned numerous medals, including more than one Purple Heart. Although he intimidated the hell out of me during my first few months on the job, I have long since looked back on my time working for him and realized how truly blessed I was to have him as my first boss. He set the standard and was a great teacher and manager. He always had my back and I trusted him completely. In fact, I have never trusted a boss as much as I trusted him. To this day, I still adhere to the principals he instilled in me and have tried to pass them along to my employees. After losing touch for 25 years, one day I met up with him again over lunch. I thanked him for having such huge and positive impact on my life and career. I was amazed that in his late 70’s he still remembered specific things about our time working together. To dissipate the emotions that were welling up at that moment, he reminded me of one of my infamous rookie mistakes. We both laughed out loud for a good three minutes.

      1. Po, It is good to hear you could reconnect with your first boss and relive some memories that were fun. I tried to instill in my players the good things I learned in the Marines and it is the reason so many keep up with me through the internet. Your rookie mistake reminds me that used to tell my students not to be afraid of mistakes. I got through to them that if they already knew an answer to a question they have learned nothing new but if they made a mistake and learned what their error was they now had more knowledge. It was good you could laugh about the early mistake today.

        1. V13, here’s a story my first boss told me that contained a great lesson. 30 seconds after walking off the plane in South Vietnam he’s told to attend a “mission briefing” in 30 minutes. No sooner had he entered the hut than an officer starts conducting the briefing. First, my boss thinks he’s in the wrong room. Then he concludes he’s been invited just to see how things are done. Then he’s informed that he’ll be amongst the pilots going on a “search and destroy combat mission that departs in 45 minutes. He’s thinking, “wait a minute, this can’t be right, I just got here. I can’t being flying into combat 90 minutes after getting off the plane!” He’s already in a state of terror when the mission commander stands up to the podium and asks, “O.K. men, how are we going to die today?” It was not a rhetorical question but intended to elicit discussion about the threats that the mission planners may have overlooked. It was a profound lesson in contingency planning and preparedness. My boss told me that at that moment, aside from trying not to vomit, his pucker-factor was so extreme that you could not have driven a nail up his “backside” with a sledge hammer.

          Before every client interaction we had while I worked for him, my boss would ask me, “O.K. how are we going to die today?” He was the best!

          1. His approach sounds so much like what I went through in training during the Marines. I ended up not in combat situations as I was pulled after testing to go into the intelligence field. Despite working with all branches of service doing electronic spying the Marines still required us to do training every off period learning tactics. The Marines emphasized think of all possibilities in missions and didn’t hide how we could die. I enjoyed my time in the intelligence field but it has ruined the mystery of life regular people live for me.

            It is good hearing about your boss and how he approached business as we need more like him and you running businesses in this country.

  4. Thanks for your service, V. Football certainly parallels the military in its lingo…Blitzes…Ground attacks and sustained attacks…Aerial assaults and aerial strikes…bombs and targets….hold the line….drop back….and sudden death to name a few. My dad could have dodged WWII by means of two BigTen football scholarships….He enlisted instead and never played football again.

    I recall a piece by George Carlin years ago when he did a very funny skit comparing football and baseball. The genius of Carlin….

  5. An Academy man regardless of which Academy has a headstart on leadership. Add some OJT experience and you have a strong candidate for success. They set goals, make plans, establish process and display strong work ethic. They’re are not automatic but they’re are lots closer than most.

  6. Great recollections. As a USAF Vietnam- Belgium-Germany vet, nice to know so many ‘regulars’ on this site. At Casteau, Belgium, I was part of a ‘flag’ unit 7 man football squad. 6 games; 6-0. A total of 2 touchdowns allowed against us for the entire season. Most players in the 6 team league were ex-collegiate players. Our coach was a 6’4″ 350 lb head of food service, affectionally known as ‘Tiny’. Tiny played 3 years in the semi-pro Continental Football league with Kansas City. Indy had the ‘Warriors’ and played ar Victory Field during that span. Played both ways. No pads. Brutal. It was 1969. Our QB (I’ve forgotten his name)
    was IU’s freshman team QB. Left handed, black….Penix’s style 51 years earlier. I played OG/OT depending on the set,..and tight end on offense. I get sore now, just thinking about it.

    1. My guess is you had a good experience as a vet in Belgium-Germany with a chance to visit other countries in Europe. You played with very good players in your league. Playing flag football back then was brutal as back then players played like it was tackle football without pads.

      Yes our OL needs to be much better in 2021 and be as good as our defense was this year. My hope is with more practice this coming year the offense will take off as coach Sheridan gets more experience as OC.

    2. A friend of mine was a Navy corpsman and he told that when he was stationed in Rota, Spain the Navy base there had full contact teams- pads, helmets, refs, the works. This would have been, I guess, in the mid-80s. On the NW side of Chgo. there used to be a couple of semi-pro teams that practiced in a neighborhood park. Being in my mid-forties, it wasn’t hard to resist the fleeting urge to suit up. Not to mention that they looked pretty big and fast. A number of police and fire depts. have full contact teams (ran into a few of the NYC members at Yankee Stadium at the Pinstripe Bowl (that field goal was good, dagnabbit), but I don’t know how they managed to recruit so many guys. The brass was always warning that if you blew out your knee in football game you’d be off the job, but forget about claiming a duty disability benefit.

  7. Just saw a new report on 247. IU O-line final rankings. Pass Blocking: #14 B1G #63 POWER 5 CONFERENCES. Run Blocking: #8 (I’m surprised it was that good) #34 POWER 5 CONFERENCES.
    For those that constantly defend this as ‘adequate’,…I don’t know what ‘your’ perameters are, but this statistical revelation pretty much sizes up the situation. This entire sector needs serious upgrading. I cannot see CTA allowing this to continue.

    1. Brad, I’m skeptical of IU being ranked last in the Big Ten in Pass Blocking. I’d like to examine the number of QB sacks IU allowed in 2020 and compare that to the other Power-five conference teams. I don’t recall thinking Penix was under great duress in the games he played last season. But I agree that improvement needs to be made.

  8. Improvement needed is an understatement. I’m very disappointed with our one conference loss against one of the four best teams in the nation. This is truly unacceptable for what was, yesterday, the most notorious losing program in the history of college football. And who cannot be completely underwhelmed with defeating Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin in the same season rather than picking out of hat which of those teams we used to defeat once every decade or two?
    Now where’s my milk and cookies, MOTHER! Geez!…I asked for them 30 minutes ago!

  9. PO: I was surprised as well. I thought the #’s would be reversed. Just going by what the stats people put together and published.

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