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FSU football: Why Alex Atkins stuck with the Seminoles over head coaching chances

Atkins’ name came up for head coaching jobs at USF and Charlotte. So why is he still a Seminoles assistant?
 
Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins talks with reporters before the start of the Seminoles' 2023 spring football practice.
Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins talks with reporters before the start of the Seminoles' 2023 spring football practice. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published March 9, 2023|Updated March 10, 2023

Florida State will be a preseason College Football Playoff contender thanks largely to the unusually high number of NFL prospects who stayed: quarterback Jordan Travis, receiver Johnny Wilson and defensive linemen Jared Verse and Fabien Lovett, among others.

Their decisions made it easy to overlook the return of another figure just as pivotal to the Seminoles’ rebirth.

Offensive coordinator Alex Atkins.

“He’s a great coach and a phenomenal recruiter,” quarterbacks coach Tony Tokarz said. “He’s always going to have opportunities.”

Related: FSU football: How Mike Norvell rebuild ‘Noles slowly, then suddenly

Atkins had at least two of them in the last hiring cycle. His name came up early in the head coaching search at Charlotte, where Atkins spent the 2019 season as offensive coordinator. It came up at USF, too, before the Bulls hired another up-and-coming Power Five offensive coordinator, Tennessee’s Alex Golesh.

Atkins said the nature of those talks can be exaggerated, and there are other major factors to consider, too, like the fact that his wife loves Tallahassee.

Dillan Gibbons was the first FSU offensive lineman to earn first-team all-ACC honors since 2016.
Dillan Gibbons was the first FSU offensive lineman to earn first-team all-ACC honors since 2016. [ MATTHEW HINTON | AP (2022) ]

“(If) they’re calling me, they’re calling the wrong person,” Atkins said last week as the ‘Noles prepared to start spring practice. “That’s bad recruiting on them.”

Regardless of how seriously he was considered (or how seriously he considered them), it’s easy to see why schools would be interested. Though the success of his position group, the offensive line, is usually hard to quantify, FSU’s improvement over his three seasons is clear:

• In the last year before Atkins’ arrival (2019), FSU averaged only 3.8 yards per carry (96th nationally), despite having standout back Cam Akers. Last season, the Seminoles averaged 5.5 yards per rush (eighth nationally).

• FSU went from 3.7 sacks allowed per game (No. 125) before Atkins’ arrival to 1.5 (No. 38).

• The Seminoles were a pedestrian 81st last season with 5.9 tackles for loss allowed per game. But that’s still a major improvement from 2019 (8.54 per game, No. 126 nationally).

• Clearwater Central Catholic alumnus Dillan Gibbons became FSU’s first all-ACC offensive lineman since Roderick Johnson in 2016, while three others earned at least honorable-mention all-conference honors.

Atkins also helped recruit Keiondre Jones (Auburn), Jeremiah Byers (UTEP) and Casey Roddick (Colorado) — three transfers with a combined 82 career starts. Between those additions and the continued development of returners like Robert Scott Jr. and Maurice Smith, it’s easy to envision FSU’s offensive line being a strength of a preseason top-10 team. That thought would have been unthinkable four years ago, but the expectations are justified for the ‘Noles and Atkins’ unit.

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Related: How Florida State became a top transfer portal destination

He doesn’t mind.

Maurice Smith (right) is one of the notable returners on Florida State's offensive line.
Maurice Smith (right) is one of the notable returners on Florida State's offensive line. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP (2022) ]

“It pushes expectations (for) not only players but the coaches to be their best, too,” Atkins said. “You’re at a place that has expectations. That’s why we’re in the profession, because you want to be somewhere where it’s important.”

Listen to Atkins long enough, and you can see how much those expectations matter to him. He doesn’t deny interest in becoming a head coach eventually, but he doesn’t want to be like others who jump into something that “might not have been the right deal,” because of ego or ambition.

It’s easy to assume, then, that Atkins chose to stay because the right opportunity hasn’t appeared yet. Except that’s not how he sees it, at all.

“I’m thankful that they allow me to stay here,” Atkins said. “That’s a difference …

“I’m at Florida State. I don’t know why that’s kind of overlooked. I’m at one of the premier college football programs in the country that’s made a lot of noise, you know what I mean? It’s hard to compete with this program when it’s rolling.”

And it is rolling now, into its biggest season in years, thanks in part to the return of a top assistant whose work isn’t done yet.

Related: FSU fires warning shot to ACC: ‘Something has to change’

Norvell donation

The Seminoles announced a $1 million donation Thursday from coach Mike Norvell and his wife, Maria. The money will be split between a fund for the Dunlap Football Center (which had its groundbreaking ceremony in December), the Bowden Society Facility Fund and the sports nutrition department.

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