Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2020 season and beyond.
Who: Adam Fuller, Florida State
Title: Defensive coordinator
Previous stop: Memphis defensive coordinator (2019)
Why he’s important: Much has been made of Mike Norvell’s rapid rise to one of the premier jobs in college football, and rightly so. The man is the head coach at Florida State at the age of 38. But don’t let that obscure the equally rapid rise of Norvell’s top lieutenant.
A four-year letterwinner as a linebacker at Sacred Heart, Fuller quickly rose the ranks at the sub-FBS level, eventually becoming the head coach at Division II Assumption College in 2008. After a single 1-9 season, Fuller and the school parted ways, thus beginning Fuller’s career as a defensive turnaround artist.
Fuller became Chattanooga’s defensive coordinator in 2009 and immediately chopped two touchdowns and 135 yards per game off the Mocs’ averages. He joined a Marshall staff in 2013 that had the nation’s second-worst scoring average (43.1 points per game allowed in 2012) and nearly cut it in half (22.9 in ’13.)
“My path has made me who I am, and who I am is who we want to be,” Fuller said.
When Chris Ball left Memphis to become Northern Arizona’s head coach after the 2018 season, Norvell hired Fuller to run the defense, and again Fuller brought immediate results.
Memphis cut 5.5 points per game off its scoring average, 0.24 yards per play and 44.5 yards per game off its total defense numbers, and leapt from 71st all the way to 16th in pass efficiency defense. That improvement was enough for Memphis to jump from 8-6 to 12-2 with an American championship and a Cotton Bowl berth
“We’re going to have certain schemes we’re going to run. We’re going to have coverages and we’re going to have pressures, all that stuff is part of it. Really it comes down to… I want us to play fast, I want to be able to line up fast. I want us to coach quickly — concise and clear. When the ball turns over, we’ve got 11 guys playing on the same accord with incredible passion and speed,” Fuller said. “We want to be multiple with how we appear to people, but we want to be simple enough so w can play fast.”
Other than intimating Florida State will utilize a 4-man front and saying he wants to evolve FSU’s looks throughout the season to sow confusion in the offense, Fuller talked less about scheme and more about attitude. Great defenses, he said, aren’t remembered for the scheme they run but for the characteristics they play with.
“I told the players as they come up, You don’t have to trust me. You just have to watch us work. We’re going to lead the way with our actions. Players that are about the right stuff (are) going to follow that lead.”
Florida State finished 61st in yards per play and 66th in scoring, allowing a tick below 28 points per game. (Florida State scored 363 points in 2019 and allowed 362. Relatedly, the team went 6-7.) That was a slight improvement from 2018’s average of 31.5 a game; Florida State hasn’t allowed less than 21 points a game since 2015.
The ‘Noles return 83 percent of their defensive production, ninth most in the nation, so that’s good. The bad: Florida State opens with West Virginia in Atlanta, then trips to Boise State two weeks later. Clemson comes to town two weeks after that. The ‘Noles trek to an up-and-coming Louisville team two weeks later. They close the regular season with Florida, as always.
Point being: Florida State likely won’t contend for the ACC title in 2020, but Fuller’s track record shows the defense should give the ‘Noles a chance to show real improvement in Year 1 of the Norvell era.