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Tokarz gave up on-field job, patient in waiting for ‘dream job’ at FSU

Tony Tokarz bet on himself — and Mike Norvell. 

Tokarz left Memphis and a full-time, on-field assistant coaching job to follow Norvell to Tallahassee as an analyst. That’s quite the pay cut for two full years at Florida State but also one he felt would pay off down the road.

“It was a no brainer,” Tokarz said Monday morning in an interview with the media. “To be honest with you some people thought I was crazy for leaving an on-the-field job. You work so hard for so many years to get there. But that’s not the end goal. To work with a man that I believe his vision of the things that he believes in, our program values. Having been a part of it before and knowing what he can accomplish here, what we can accomplish together, that was a no brainer. And then to come to a place like Florida State, a lot of people are going to call it a dream job. It is a dream job. It’s a job that requires a lot of work but everybody’s seen what Florida State is capable of. And so it’s our goal still to keep pushing in that direction. But like I said it was a no brainer. It really was, just the caliber of person and man that he is. The easy part is the football stuff. The guy’s a genius when it comes to offensive football and building the culture. And that’s what we’re doing here. We laid that foundation the last few years so I’m excited to see where it goes.”

Tokarz spent three seasons at Memphis, first as a graduate assistant in 2017 and ’18 and then as tight ends coach in 2019. He was a quarterback at Worcester (Mass.) State, earning all-conference honors as a senior in 2011 before beginning his coaching career the next season at Anna Maria College.

At FSU, Tokarz has worked with Norvell as well as offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham. When Dillingham took the same job at Oregon, Norvell moved quickly to elevate Alex Atkins into the dual role of offensive coordinator / offensive line coach and also make Tokarz the quarterbacks coach.

“Being an analyst is a little bit different,” Tokarz said. “Obviously, I guess you can’t coach, per se, the players. I’m not involved in that. My job was to make sure that coach Dillingham was the best quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in the country and to make coach Norvell the best head coach in the country. So my relationship with our guys, I’m kind of that second gear, that one that they come to talk to or I guess the away from football stuff if that makes sense. It’s really about building trust with those guys and then that trust carries over to on the field really. Because if they trust you off the field, if they know that you have their best interest in mind, the football stuff just falls into place.”

Tokarz’s familiarity with the offense, the quarterback room and FSU made him a good choice in Norvell’s view. He already has a built-in relationship with Jordan Travis and Tate Rodemaker, while Tokarz has met signee A.J. Duffy.

“I’m obviously really excited to get to work with this position,” Tokarz said. “It’s a position that everybody knows is critical to a successful football team. Here at Florida State we’re gonna play quarterback the way that I know quarterback should be played and that’s with passion, that’s with detail, that’s with focus. And all those things that make a good quarterback, that makes a team go. That makes a program go. So, the guys we have in our room, all those guys, show those traits. We’re going to continue to build and develop off those. I’m excited. I’m fired up and I’m ready to get to work.”

Tokarz’s promotion also was the second elevation of an analyst this offseason. Randy Shannon was a defensive analyst for FSU in 2011 but takes over as linebackers coach as well as co-defensive coordinator.

Below are a few more responses from Tokarz on Monday.

On what it has been like working with Alex Atkins: 

“Everybody knows how smart he is. Everybody knows the X’s and O’s, the detail that he puts in as far as technique and with offensive line play goes but I mean Alex is special because for a quote unquote offensive line guy, he sees big picture football very well. As a leader of men, I can’t say that I’ve seen many coaches better than him. The way that he’s able to coach. He coaches his guys hard but he is able to do that because they trust him as a leader of men. But as a coach, when it comes to coaches, I mean, you’re talking about a guy that has absolutely zero ego. He doesn’t care where the ideas come from or who gets the credit. To him, it’s about getting the job done, which goes back to his offensive line background. That is in the DNA of an offensive lineman right there. He exemplifies that as a coach.”

On Jordan Travis evolution the last couple years, where has he improved the most:

“The obvious is he has shown that he can play quarterback. I know that’s a really broad thing, but that kid can play quarterback. There was a lot of negativity about him in just that position when we got here. Just giving that kid the confidence and the tools to go out and keep getting better. I mean, we have to get more consistent; there’s obviously always room for work. That is in any room. I mean Tom Brady, how long has he been in the league, and he’s still tweaking his game to this day. To be able to work with Jordan, we have a dynamic athlete, extremely explosive, can push the ball downfield, and he is extremely, extremely intelligent football-wise. I mean, the dude gets his work done in the classroom but football-wise, he is very good. So that gives me a really solid foundation to start working with. As we go, we’ll continue to get better.”

On his coaching philosophy, teaching and growing a player:

“Passion and detail. It’s simple to me. I’m a Division III guy, you know, I might not be the blue blood that people necessarily wanted, but I’m the blue collar that this program needs. Our guys know what work is. Over these last couple of years, it took some time for our program to actually figure out what work is, but now we know what that looks like. Now it’s building consistency off of that on a day-to-day basis to get those incremental gains and get our program where it needs to be.”

On how playing/coaching at lower levels helps him at FSU:
You come to a place like Florida State and you’ve got guys who can run fast, you’ve got big dudes that can hit hard. When you play and work at a lower level of college football, you really embrace the detail. Obviously, the players aren’t as talented so me, as a coach and me as a player, whatever that scenario might be at a lower level, you have to figure out a way to get your job done with detail, with efficiency because you might not have the God-given gifts and abilities that some of these higher-profile players have. That’s not to say there’s not good players at the lower levels, but that’s also why I think you find a lot of talented coaches that come from lower levels because you have to learn to coach with that detail. Coach Atkins has a junior college background where coaching those guys requires a very specific teaching skillset. The detail, the patience, and then just the consistency to just keep hammering the same points over and over again at times so they can go out and execute. I think that coaching at the lower levels, it’s been beneficial. It’s also provided me the opportunity to wear a bunch of different hats. At one point, I was running the weight room, doing laundry, breaking down film and helping put together a game plan. You also gain respect for the other areas that make a program go, that do serve as lifeblood to the program as well.

On AJ Duffy:

“Extremely intelligent. Poised. He carries himself like you’d imagine a quarterback carrying himself. He kind of has some of that ‘it’ quarterback factor. Dad was a coach, so he’s been around the game. He’s an absolute sponge. I got the chance to obviously meet him several times when he came here for visits, and just the chance to interact with him. His dad is actually about 20 minutes from where I’m from in Massachusetts. So being able to build a relationship, that’s been fun. But I’m excited for AJ. The kid has a bright future, and he is not afraid to work. The combination of his skill set and his willingness to put in the work, it’ll be fun. (He will) bring a continued edge to our room. Like I said, Jordan is a stud. He’s our quarterback. But I mean, every single day as a quarterback, you have to have the competitive mindset every time you step on the field. And I think he brings a little bit more of that to our room as well.”

On meeting Norvell when he took over at Memphis:

“So I was at Memphis with the transition of Coach Fuente and Coach Norvell. I was actually given the opportunity to stay at Memphis with Coach Norvell. He told me ‘I don’t know what position it’ll be, I don’t know if it’ll be quality control or graduate assistant, but I’ve seen your work here the last few weeks during this transition and how you’ve helped us, and I want to continue to give you the opportunity to stay on.’

Being a probably overzealous coach, I went and took a position with a Division II job, went back to the school I had worked at before and it was a good opportunity for me to continue to learn. But I stayed in touch with coach. I actually worked a quarterback camp with he and Coach Dillingham at Memphis later that summer and continued to try and feed that relationship and continued to stay in touch. That opportunity came up again about a year later and I couldn’t say no. From there, whether it’s been as a graduate assistant, on-field coach, analyst, I’ve had a chance to be around one of the greatest coaches in the country and it’s served me well. I’m excited to continue to build our relationship and hopefully build it together.”

On Tate Rodemaker:

“Tate has made great gains. I think whether it’s with Coach Storms in the weight room, changing his body. From the quarterback perspective, you’re looking at a kid that’s taken the time to settle his feet, to work on his drops, to do the stuff that’s not always the fun stuff. Playing quarterback isn’t always about just throwing the football. Tate has done a better job of doing some of the dirty work it takes to be a good quarterback. He, and everyone else in our program, the word is ‘consistency.’ So, for us, it’s to keep pushing forward and work the way that we know we’re supposed to work. … I’m excited to see the growth of Tate.”