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.”