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Friends and foes: Examining the web of relationships between coaches at Florida State and Duke

Examining the intertwined history of the coaching staffs in Tallahassee and Durham.

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

Saturday night’s primetime game between the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles and No. 16 Duke Blue Devils marks FSU’s Homecoming celebration. While the competition on the field will be fierce, this weekend will serve as another sort of homecoming for coaches on both sides.

Many opposing coaching staffs have a connection or two on any given Saturday — the familiarity between the staffs for the Seminoles and Blue Devils, however, runs deeper than normal.

One of the earliest connections between the two staffs is found nearly two decades ago. In 2005, Mike Elko and Adam Fuller coached together at the University of Richmond. Fuller oversaw the defensive backs while Elko coached the linebackers and served as recruiting coordinator.

“I’ve known Adam Fuller, the defensive coordinator, probably as long as I’ve known most coaches in this profession,” said Elko this week. “He does a really good job. He’s a really good football coach. He’s got that defense playing at a really high level.”

“We’ve kept in touch,” Fuller said on Monday. “He’s always been somebody that I’ve connected well with. He’s smart, takes a lot of pride in his work, works hard at it. I’m glad for his success.”

Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller observes pregame warmups before the Florida State Seminoles defeated the Syracuse Orange 41-3 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

On the flip side, Fuller and Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell are extremely familiar with Duke offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns. Norvell gave Johns the offensive coordinator role for the Memphis Tigers in 2019.

During his media introduction after being hired as Memphis OC that year, Johns said to the Commercial Appeal, “We’re not going to screw anything up. This is Coach (Mike) Norvell’s offense, it’s his show and everyone knows that. I’m here just to help in any way that I can.”

Though they only overlapped for one season in Memphis, Johns certainly didn’t screw anything up. Norvell and Johns mentored a 4,000-yard passer (Brady White), a 1,000-yard rusher (Kenneth Gainwell) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Damonte Coxie) that year.

Syndication: The Commercial Appeal Max Gersh/The Commercial Appeal / USA TODAY NETWORK

“Got a lot of respect for Coach [Mike] Elko,” Norvell said during Monday’s weekly press conference, “Coach [Kevin] Johns, offensive coordinator, we’ve worked together. It’s a very well-coached team with really good players.”

“Coach Johns and I, we were together there at Memphis. Coach Fuller and Coach Elko, they worked together in their past. There’s some unique dynamics just in this game of guys that have relationships over the years. A lot of respect goes to their staff because I know who they are. My time being around Coach Elko, he’s a class act. Whether it’s head coaches meetings, you can always understand his perspective of things because it’s well thought out, usually very like minded individual.”

Also on that staff as tight ends coach? Current Seminoles quarterbacks coach Tony Tokarz. Additionally, current FSU offensive grad assistant Cooper Williams served as an analyst under Johns on that 2019 Tigers squad.

While each of these coaches has undoubtedly evolved since their respective overlaps, familiarity with scheme and philosophy goes both ways in this tilt. It remains to be seen whether this shared history will benefit one side more than the other, but one thing is certain. After those pregame pleasantries cease and the ball is kicked off, happy memories and past alliances will be set aside.

There’s a primetime football game to win.