The Daily Nole

Sunday Centerpiece: Breaking Down Each Member of FSU’s Defensive Staff

FSU athletics

Piece-by-piece, day-by-day, new Florida State football head coach Mike Norvell built his first staff as the man in charge. It was a highly-anticipated task, thanks to Norvell’s results at Memphis which allowed multiple staff members to get hired away by bigger programs.

The question was on everyone’s mind…would Norvell’s first FSU staff be a star-studded cast of proven Power 5 coaches? Would it be a low-risk, low-reward group of familiar coaches with little experience at a high level? Or maybe you’re a rational and well-adjusted fan who thought it’d be something in the middle. To each their own.

We will give you our 100 percent honest opinions on each member of FSU’s coaching staff. We are not implying that other sites are outright lying to you — but we do think other sites are under a certain pressure to be overly positive, simply because they have an amount of access that would be jeopardized by public criticism.

You’re in luck if you want the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth. I’ve been watching Memphis football for quite some time, being the son of a city native and having family all over west Tennessee. I’m not proclaiming to be an expert or connected on the level that a Memphis beat reporter might be.

But I’ve almost certainly watched more Memphis football than anyone else on the FSU beat and I have a context to my opinions on Norvell and his staff that others simply don’t. None of this guarantees my thoughts/predictions will turn out correct, of course. Just something to keep in mind. After examining the FSU offensive staff last week, we now look at the other side of the football.

Adam Fuller (DC)

This will be Florida State’s version of Todd Grantham. Let me explain.

In terms of the overall defensive performance, fans will be extremely pleased with Fuller. He made rapid turnarounds at Charlotte and Memphis with rosters that weren’t necessarily loaded with talent. That’s a good sign that he’s a quality coach who doesn’t need a stacked roster to succeed. How fast can it be done? Well, Florida State finished with the 68th-ranked defense, according to SP+ in 2019. Expect it to be at least top-30 with Fuller at the helm.

Now comes the bad news.

Fuller’s play-calling can be…slightly infuriating. He loves staying aggressive on all downs and that tends to work very well against most teams on the schedule. Against better offenses? They seem to have a special power-up that allows them to convert third downs and wear out the defense. It stems from him putting a lot of faith in his cornerbacks that isn’t always reciprocated. Most of the time, Fuller’s defense will perform excellently and provide the team with much-needed boosts of energy. But be warned about some tendencies that will pop up in the worst moments.

Odell Haggins (DT)

Please enter this section with an open mind. It’s not nearly as critical as it might seem at first glance.

The absolute best thing for Haggins was being put back into his natural coaching position. Last year, Haggins coached the entire defensive line in a 3-4 system that he clearly was not comfortable with. That group as a whole did not bring a consistent level of play that was expected of them. There’s no excuse for getting pushed around by some of the teams FSU went up against. The defensive line finished the season as the overall best part of the defense, but it wasn’t saying much.

As a defensive tackles coach, Haggins is a top-5 coach in the entire game. That unit was pretty much the only part of last year’s team that was not totally disappointing, and now it returns its two best players (Marvin Wilson and Cory Durden) to go along with solid depth options (Robert Cooper and Tru Thompson). Expect nothing less than the standard we became used to before 2017.

Odell as a recruiter is a strange situation to parse. On one hand, Odell is a huge reason that Florida State was able to keep some of its more talented players in the 2020 class. Haggins does great work as an overall recruiter who can attract players that aren’t even within his position group.

Yet, the defensive line became a worry after 2019 for a reason. Haggins has gotten the bare minimum of talent to make it passable, but he simply can’t maintain the current pace he’s at. He needs to bring in more high-end talent, and fast.

John Papuchis (DE/ST)

Papuchis is the biggest unknown of the entire staff. That is an odd thing to say about a guy with over a decade of Power 5 coaching experience. The reluctance stems from being unable to separate “talent” from “coaching” and whether or not Papuchis actually deserves much credit for the units he coached. Yes, he had great players at Nebraska and North Carolina, but how much of that was his doing?

Admittedly, I don’t know because Papuchis is the staff member I have the least amount of background on. So I’m unable to tell whether or not this is a Mark Snyder situation or otherwise.

From what I can discern, he’s fairly well thought-of in the coaching world and his units seem to perform in line with the overall defense. The lone exception to this would be his Maryland special teams unit from 2019 — which ranked almost dead last in the SP+ special teams rankings. It seems like an easy conclusion, right? Nope. Papuchis was also the special teams coordinator for Nebraska in 2011, and he yielded a top-20 ranking. Something has got to give.

Chris Marve (LB)

The most common phrase for Marve is “up-and-coming”. His career trajectory supports that, considering that he was a linebacker at Vanderbilt as recent as 2011, and now he’s already been a position coach at three different FBS programs. Surely, we know his strengths and weaknesses by now.

Well, it’s not that easy. The most revealing part of his career is the stint at Vanderbilt from 2016 to 2018, where the Commodores pumped out two early-round NFL draft picks and constantly reloaded the unit with great talent. Marve worked under Derek Mason and helped Vanderbilt maintain solid defenses in two out of three seasons. Most notable was the Commodores’ physicality, which was always impressive and made them look like an actual SEC team. Overall, it was an encouraging result for the newly-initiated Marve.

Many are trying to parse through his lone year at Mississippi State for more evidence of his coaching caliber. Quite honestly, it’s useless. Mississippi State’s defense lost multiple first-round draft picks and one of its better linebackers before 2019 ever started. The entire team took a step back and it was enough that Joe Moorhead is now out of a job. There was nothing Marve could do. Don’t expect a linebackers coach to bear much responsibility there.

T.J. Rushing (DB)

The fan favorite for defensive backs coach was Terrell Buckley and thankfully, the staff is not being hired based on which names the fan base will recognize the easiest. Rushing is a guy that’s been familiar to Mike Norvell ever since they worked on the same staff at Arizona State. Rushing’s NFL background made him an easy choice to bring to Memphis and it gives him some extra credibility for Florida State.

Having watched Memphis defensive backs, Rushing’s units are much like Fuller’s overall philosophy. They’re aggressive, to the point where it can work against them in certain situations. One thing fans will love is their physicality. Rushing’s players are tough to play against for a full game and they have no qualms about coming up and helping out in stopping the run.

It’s already exciting to think about what the defense can do with Akeem Dent and Travis Jay in these roles. They also love to try and intimidate wide receivers and frustrate them all the way down the field — though in the American Athletic Conference, this resulted in a lot of needless penalties. Some of that is the conference officiating, but their brand of play will get them penalties anywhere they go.

Rushing’s weaknesses will likely come against teams who lean towards air-raid tendencies. They can get tired out after getting peppered for a whole game (Example: SMU). Against more run-dominant teams though? They can produce shockingly good outings (Example: Penn State).

Clint Eiland is the lead writer for The Daily Nole. Follow Clint on Twitter @ClintEiland. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at

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