By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Terrell Buckley is something of a rarity in sports: a superstar player who is finding success as a coach.
A former Florida State All-American who is one of just nine Seminoles to have his jersey retired, Buckley will be on the opposing sideline, as Louisville’s cornerbacks coach, when second-ranked FSU visits on Thursday. Former FSU linebacker Derek Nicholson (2005-08) is also a graduate assistant with the Cardinals.
“The challenge I think a lot of guys run into is when you have the approach as a player, you can go out and actually do what you see and handle it yourself,” Buckley said.
“Well, obviously, as a coach, you’re not playing anymore. So you have to understand, ‘OK, I see this. I understand this. But how am I going to be able to teach this and get the guys that I’m responsible for to understand it and see it the way that I see it? And the way it should be played? So that’s a challenge.”
It’s a challenge that Buckley has apparently answered.
He’s helped guide Louisville’s secondary to No. 2 national rankings in interceptions and pass efficiency defense, as well as a No. 10 ranking in passing yards allowed.
It’s all part of a Louisville defense that’s among the nation’s best in just about every category, including a No. 1 ranking in total defense.
“’Buck’ is a heck of a coach, now,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He loves to coach, but he loved to study the game. And you don’t always see that out of great players (because) they always relied on a lot of ability.
“He’s a very intelligent guy and he’s got a great future in this game, in my opinion.”
Buckley’s road to major college coaching has been a fast one.
While at FSU, Buckley set a school record for interceptions (21), a national record for interception return yardage (501) and earned the 1991 Jim Thorpe Award as the country’s top defensive back.
The Green Bay Packers drafted him fifth overall in 1992, and he went on to enjoy a 13-yard career highlighted by a win in Super Bowl XXXVI with the New England Patriots.
He retired in 2005 and, just two years later, was back at Florida State, serving as a graduate assistant under his former coach, Bobby Bowden.
“Coming back and working as GA and assistant coach under him,” Buckley said, “it was – you know how you have some things that you look back and say, ‘Man, I just didn’t know that this was going to be this special to me?’
“I don’t know if I can contain the respect and admiration that I have for the type of person that he is and what he did at Florida State. It’s amazing. I could go on hours and hours.”
After completing his undergraduate degree in 2007, Buckley stayed at FSU, serving as both a volunteer assistant strength coach and team’s life-skills coordinator.
Buckley’s break into coaching came in 2012, when he moved to Akron to coach cornerbacks under Bowden’s son, Terry.
Akron presented a reunion of sorts for Buckley. He served on a staff with a coach he had played for (Chuck Amato) and coached with (Todd Stroud). And, of course, he enjoyed plenty of visits from the man he affectionately calls “The Big Bowden.”
“To be a part of that with Coach Bowden, then turning around and working for his son was pretty unique and exciting at the same time,” Buckley said.
Then, in January, Buckley got a call from an old friend.
Lamar Thomas had served as Buckley’s foil throughout his collegiate career, a star receiver for Miami during the FSU-UM classics of the late 1980s and early 1990s. But the two later became teammates with the Miami Dolphins and maintained a close friendship over the years.
Thomas had been steadily climbing the coaching ranks as well, and served on coach Bobby Petrino’s staff at Western Kentucky in 2013. When Petrino moved back to Louisville earlier this year, he brought Thomas with him.
And when Petrino needed a cornerbacks coach to fill out his staff, Thomas had an easy suggestion.
“Lamar gave him my name,” Buckley said. “He called me up and we talked about it and I guess he liked what he heard.”
The former rivals still go at it, this time via proxies in practice – Buckley’s corners against Thomas’ receivers.
And, unsurprisingly, Buckley isn’t shy about who gets the better of the competition.
“I tell Lamar all the time, there has to be some competition for there to be a rivalry,” Buckley said with a laugh. “And there’s no rivalry because I beat him all the time.”
Buckley will be wearing the Cardinals’ black and red on Thursday, but he still has connections with FSU.
His daughter Sherrell is a sophomore on the FSU women’s golf team, and two more daughters, Brianna and Britney, are golfers at Cypress Bay High in Weston.
And Buckley, of course, still has fond memories of his time with the Seminoles. He says he has too many great on-field memories to name his favorite, but says that the camaraderie with his teammates – and coach Bobby Bowden – left the greatest impression.
“The greatest memories I have are of my teammates,” Buckley said. “The family. From Derrick Brooks to Charlie Ward to John Davis and some guys that you guys don’t know. The Ostazewski twins.
“It was probably three of my greatest years that I’ve experienced thus far.”