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Q&A: Alex Atkins on expanded role as FSU’s OL coach, offensive coordinator

Alex Atkins spoke with the media about his new, expanded role with Florida State football on Tuesday. Atkins had been FSU’s offensive line coach in 2020 and ’21 but is now adding the role of offensive coordinator.

In the interview, Atkins spoke on the rarity of offensive line coaches taking on the dual role as OC — stating some don’t want the added role or just have no desire to do it. Atkins made it clear he sees the big picture of football beyond the line.

He also said he is most comfortable on the sideline and will be on the field on game days, which is where he was in the previous two years. (Kenny Dillingham was in the box as FSU’s previous offensive coordinator.)

Below are some highlights of what he said:

Opening statement

“I’m fired up to be here. Excited about this new offseason we’re about to start, especially about the guys we’ve got coming in. Excited about the new position. People ask you how you feel, but in reality, being the O-line coach and coordinated before, usually they come to the line coach and ask you what you can and can’t do anyway. If you can block, you’re usually pretty successful. But I am fired up for the new position and appreciate Mike Norvell for the opportunity and am ready to get started.”

On conversations with coach Mike Norvell about becoming the offensive coordinator

“This process started when I left Charlotte when I first came to Florida State. I was coordinating the offense there, calling plays, and I saw it as an opportunity to learn from a guy who called plays better than I did. To be able to learn offensive football from Mike Norvell, looking at his track record and guys who’ve worked for him and gone other places, it is unbelievable the rapid pace he’s done it and how young he is. So when we first had a conversation about it, I told him my goals and aspirations. That’s what he said. ‘What do you want to do? What do you want your career to be and what do you want to become?’ So that was the first initial conversation. A lot of guys when they’re hiring coaches, it’s like recruiting, they tell them what they want to hear. When I’ve spoken to guys all across the country about Coach Norvell, they all said ‘upright, stand-up, honest’ all the things you want to hear when you work for a guy. So when we had that initial conversation, I knew I still had to prove value and worth, and an ability to be able to do it. And he provided the opportunity just like he said he would, if the opportunity ever opened. That conversation started a while ago.”

On play-calling dynamic with Norvell

“It is coach Norvell’s offense. I’m here to learn how to coordinate it from an organizational standpoint and learning how to call. Coach Norvell will call plays. It’s just learning more how he does it, how he sees the game, basically organizing. Being an o-line coach, you’re always heavily involved in the play-calling process. Now I’m just involved in all aspects of the process. First time calling a game, it was the bowl game at Tulane, and we played Louisiana-Lafayette in 2018. And I’ve always been on the sideline. … So I will always be on the field to interact with players on the field. And even when I left Tulane, I visited a lot of coaches who were calling from the field. Got a lot of advice from them. That’s what I’m comfortable with. I like interacting with players on the field, especially the o-line, so that isn’t going to change. I’ll still be on the field, and we’ll still have eyes and ears in the box.”

On Norvell promoting from within, how important is it to have a relationship with so many players

“Once again, kudos to coach Norvell. Because when guys are moving and shaking it’s usually because No. 1 by free agency and money but also involved in climbing your career opportunity. No different than guys working in your profession, you feel like you’re stuck just being a writer or editor and there’s no chance to climb, you usually move a lot more. Aand we’ve been able to have a relationship here and develop and maximize ourselves where you see opportunity to grow and to climb. And that’s the bottom line. You want to see growth but you also want to challenge yourself and say, ‘It’s not just position (or) position.’ I have to grow. I have to be better than I was the day before to give him the trust and create value for myself where he feels like that will be value for the whole company or program. That’s been huge. And that’s what we need here for us is continuity because that was the big thing coming in, everybody said it was not only in my position group but just as a team in general. But that’s where the success came from is continuity.

Why is it that more offensive line coaches aren’t getting into being play callers?

“Some o-line coaches have no desire to call plays. They enjoy coaching the o-line. Some guys say, ‘I don’t want to get involved in it at all. I want to coach the offensive line, that’s where I feel comfortable, that’s what I want to do.’ That and also just going back to coordinator historically has been quarterback coaches. That’s the norm and like any normal business or anything there’s a cycle. That’s what it’s been. And that’s what it will always be and you look for guys that are not that kind of mindset that are willing to evolve, change and look into different options to maximize wherever they are. So I give a lot of props to coach Norvell for thinking outside of the norm and just looking to maximize the best results we can get and also create opportunities. And some coaches it don’t matter how good the coaches are, the quarterback is important. It doesn’t matter what dynamic he creates or how it goes. It’s just what they’ve known and that’s how it’s going to be.”

On having Tony Tokarz as an analyst for two years and keeping continuity with him as QB coach

“Just knowledge. He’s been with coach Norvell for a long time and his knowledge of the offense, his grasp, his personality, relationship-based. Everything that was just a home run for us, especially for me because the relationship I have with Tony and the things he told me walking in the door. He was able to give me all the information I needed from playbooks to verbiage to everything that has translated. That was a home run just because of his knowledge of not only this offense but the relationship he has with coach Norvell and what I’m doing with him while we’ve been here together.”

On the lack of black offensive coordinators and offensive line coach coordinators

“In totality, when you look at guys who move up to the OC position, it comes from the quarterback position. That’s kind of the norm so that trickles down to not only o-line coaches but African-American quarterback coaches. So it’s even kind of double fold because coaching o-line, there’s not many white or black offensive line/coordinators. But I do think it shows progress as far as example. A lot of people lead by example by creating belief that it is possible because at one point it wasn’t believed that it was possible. When I say I want to be an example, it’s more of how my kids react to me, the relationship I build with the players. Those things are more where I want to be looked upon as how I relate to my players and how my players respond to me and the things they say about me because that’s the truth of it. I can get up there and say whatever, but what those players are saying about me is the truth. But I do think it’s significant because anytime there’s a first or only, it creates belief, which creates inspiration.

On his relationship with quarterback Jordan Travis and watching him grow over the last couple of years

“Jordan is awesome because you know he is in a group text with the o-line. If you watch practice, I stand next to him basically the whole practice. So we have good conversations. He is also involved in knowing the protections, knowing the checks, because our offense is heavy quarterback vision. But what I love about Jordan is those players love watching Jordan. They love being around him. They are inspired by him. He inspires them to play better than what they are and to overachieve. And his growth has been very similar to the o-line. You wish you could just go to a plug-and-play like free agency and NFL but that’s just not the case. He has developed. He still has years remaining of eligibility, and he’s gotten better every time and every year he’s been here. So his development has been awesome to see and that’s just reality of football.”

On what Jordan Travis can do to help AJ Duffy, the dynamics between those two

“The dynamics is they already have a relationship. So it’s not like they haven’t spoken or communicated or supported each other. Walking into that room, just like normal, you have an older guy that’s been through this and seen it, you’ve got a guy walking in and seeing it for the first time. So the relationship is built upon that. ‘Let me show you. I’ve been through this. I’ve gotten criticized. I’ve gotten praised. This is what this position is at this level.’ So I think he has somebody that’s been through the wringer a little bit that can kind of teach him how that goes as he develops. The expectation is different, just teaching them how to carry himself — all that is important. We look at his on the field (performance), but there’s so many other aspects that goes into those relationships and leadership that start with that relationship. Nobody likes to walk in somewhere and just immediately get bossed around. So the relationship has been established. So I can’t wait to watch what those guys put into it.”