GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Most college football coaches have a similar backstory of how they launched their careers.
They played the game at some level in college and used the connections made during that time to start climbing the rungs of the coaching ladder as soon as their playing days were complete.
New Florida cornerbacks coach Charlton Warren has a different story.
He was busy working on cockpits, fighter jets and cargo planes as an avionics engineer in the U.S. Air Force, later transitioning to weapons while attaching GBUs (guided bottom units) on B-2s, F18s and F16s. (Not to mention picking up his MBA along the way.)
“That was right after 9/11, so the ops tempo was great and high. Tremendous program, got to do a lot of cool things with blowing things up and getting after bad guys,” Warren said.
Eventually, he found his way back to football, though. And that second career has gone pretty well also.
Warren had played defensive back at the United States Air Force Academy in the late 1990s. He then was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force and served 10 years active duty. While he was based domestically throughout that time — at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and Eglin AFB in Florida — he took multiple trips overseas as part of his work as well.
“That turned into a 10-year Air Force career, [and] at some point I got the coaching bug there at the academy and I had a chance to stay on staff and get out of the military, and after 10 years that’s where I became a full-time coach,” Warren said Tuesday while meeting with local reporters for the first time since his hiring. “Probably the greatest thing I ever did in my life was go to the Air Force Academy, probably outside of meeting my wife actually, probably the greatest thing I ever did in my life. … Because it probably shaped who I am as a man, a husband, as a father and as a football coach.”
WATCH: Florida cornerbacks coach Charlton Warren meets with media
Posted by Florida Gators – SEC Country on Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Warren’s last three years of active duty included a return to the Air Force Academy as an instructor, and he was assigned to the football staff.
“I got a chance to get offered the corners job at the Air Force Academy, which then turned into defensive coordinator, which then turned into me becoming a full-time coach,” he said.
Which has since led him to stints at Nebraska (as defensive backs coach in 2014), North Carolina (DBs coach from 2015-16), Tennessee (DBs/special teams coordinator last season) and now Florida.
Warren didn’t have a prior history with Florida coach Dan Mullen or defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, but he says somebody suggested to Grantham he look him up. A native of Georgia with a growing resume and a history of recruiting in the South, Warren proved to be a fit for the Gators.
“We had a phone call, we had a meeting and then from there it sort of just took off,” Warren said of his talks with Grantham. “Being a guy from the South, I’ve always admired the University of Florida. Obviously the history and tradition of the players, being a secondary coach, you’d be blind to not see the amount of secondary players that have come out of this program and this state in general, so I think all of those things were a match and a go and we went from there.”
Florida has now had a different coach in charge of its cornerbacks in every season since 2014 — Travaris Robinson (2014), Kirk Callahan (2015), Torrian Gray (2016), Corey Bell (2017) and now Warren.
Every coach has his own style, of course, and Warren’s is naturally shaped by his background. He admits he can’t separate his time in the military from his approach now to coaching. He was quick to clarify that doesn’t mean he’s putting his players through boot camp or making them drop and do push-ups during a meeting, but he does have standards he will expect from everybody in his room.
“I think where that comes across for me is the discipline and accountability that I demand from those guys day in and day out,” he said. “Little things like sitting up in your chair. You know, when the meeting starts, if one person is talking, you listen. The ‘yes sir,’ ‘no sir’ comments back and forth in our room. So I just think that discipline and accountability that I sort of bring just as a human being on a day-to-day basis sort of spills over to my players in the meeting room, and then also when we’re playing well, that’s going to be on the football field.
“Because when you have discipline and accountability, you don’t blow coverages. When you have discipline and accountability, you communicate effectively with your teammate, your squad mate, your brother next to you. You make sure everybody is on the same page. So I think for me, just the way my structure is, just the way I fundamentally teach and how that then corresponds to their play, I think those two will be intertwined on a daily basis.”
Despite the revolving door of defensive backs coaches at Florida, the Gators have produced exceptional talent at the cornerback/nickel positions with Vernon Hargreaves III, Brian Poole, Quincy Wilson and Jalen “Teez” Tabor now in the NFL, Duke Dawson about to join them and rising sophomores Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson emerging as the next wave.
Now it’s up to Warren to push those guys and the rest of Florida’s young cornerbacks to the next level and carry on that tradition.
For what it’s worth, in his one season at Tennessee, the Vols allowed the third-fewest passing yards per game (161.7) in the country last year. Florida was 28th on that list at 195.4 YPG.
Warren was asked if he ever reflects on his successful second act and how far he’s come in the profession, transitioning from active duty to finding his footing in the coaching world and rising up to this new opportunity in a spotlight SEC program.
“I think it’s all a process. I think that I wouldn’t have been a coach, a secondary coach at the highest level of football in my mind in college football in the SEC if I wasn’t once a hard-working second lieutenant in the Air Force, if I wasn’t once a hard-working cadet at the Air Force Academy or a hard-working student in high school,” he said. “It’s all a process and it builds and builds and builds. I think it’s just that competitive drive that, no matter what you’re doing in life, do it at the highest level possible because you never know what door can get opened from that. If you don’t give your all, there are some doors that will be closed that you may not ever get to. …
“I’m trying to be the best secondary coach in America, because right now that’s what I’m tasked to do. If I was putting GBU-38s on a Predator in 2002, I’m going to be the best dang program manager for the GBU-38 that I can be in the country. For me, this is all a process and whatever you ask me to do, you’re going to get the most out of it.”