TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Adam Fuller is ready to get to work.
That much was apparent during his introductory press conference on Monday, when he said the words “work” or “worked” or “working” no fewer than 23 times.
Hired to be Florida State’s defensive coordinator late last week, Fuller has a big job to do.
This year’s Seminoles rank 99th nationally in total defense and, in truth, none of their predecessors have performed at an elite level since at least 2015. Maybe longer.
Quick improvement, however, seems to be one of Fuller’s specialties. He’s authored turnarounds at every stop of his career, most recently with coach Mike Norvell’s Memphis Tigers this season.
A year ago, Memphis surrendered 428.1 yards (89th most in the country) and 31.9 points (94th) per game.
In Fuller’s one season at the helm, those numbers improved to 372.3 yards (50th) and 24.4 points (47th) per game.
And you can guess the secret to Fuller’s success.
“Mindset and hard work,” he said. “It’s really all about the work, and that will be the message from Day 1.”
Fuller knows a thing or two about it.
A coaching veteran of more than 20 years, Fuller started his career at Division III Worcester Polytechnic in 1998, then made stops at FCS Wagner College, Division II Assumption College and FCS Chattanooga before getting his first bowl subdivision gig at Marshall in 2013.
By then, he’d been coaching for 15 years.
“To end up at a place like Florida State University has been a dream,” Fuller said. “But I only got to this dream by (having) a work ethic, and by a will to prepare, and being good to people and trying to do it the right way and out-work everybody in the country.”
A four-year letter-winner at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, Fuller initially pursued a career in law enforcement after graduation.
It made sense. Fuller had been a criminal justice major and revered his grandfather, who had served in the military during World War II.
So Fuller took steps toward becoming a state trooper, but, with every passing day, couldn’t shake the feeling that he was headed down the wrong path.
And that he belonged on a football field.
“I went to my college coach,” Fuller remembered, “and said, ‘I would like to get into coaching’ – hoping that he would just give me a job at the current school so I could prolong the process of making a decision of what (I) wanted to do with (my) life.”
A few days later, Fuller got a call back. There were no jobs available at Sacred Heart, but there was a promising lead at Worcester Polytechnic, a small engineering school near Boston about two hours north.
The only catch?
The job paid $2,000.
“I said to myself, ‘Well, that’s not really what I was thinking about,’” Fuller said. “But he got it for me, so (I said) ‘Yes, sir.’
“And I showed up.”
After a year at Worcester Polytechnic – and after the school’s head coach had been fired – Fuller moved to Wagner. And it was here, thanks to a man named Walt Hameline, that Fuller truly developed his passion for coaching.
Hameline, a mainstay at Wagner for more than 30 years, was one of the few coaches in the country who also served as his school’s athletics director.
Given a first-row view of Hameline’s own work ethic, Fuller learned exactly what it would take to succeed. And he realized that he had it, too.
“Within about a year of working with him, and his passion and his drive, his work ethic, his commitment to improvement, always sort of working at the things he was doing, it clicked,” Fuller said.
“And then I realized I could stay in football. I could quench my thirst for just the work.”
The work took Fuller up and down the east coast, to Assumption College, to Richmond, to Chattanooga and to Marshall, where local icon Doc Holliday gave Fuller his first taste of FBS football.
And, perhaps most importantly, his first in-roads in recruiting the state of Florida.
Holliday served on Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida in the mid-2000s, and had maintained many connections with the state’s prep football scene in the years since.
“I learned a lot through him and developed a lot of relationships in this state,” Fuller said. “And so I’ll be forever grateful.”
By the time Fuller had completed Marshall’s defensive turnaround – the Thundering Herd ranked 25th in total defense in 2018, Fuller’s last year there – he was square on the radar of Norvell, who needed a replacement after losing his defensive coordinator to Georgia.
For the work-minded Fuller, Norvell was a perfect match.
“You always want to surround yourself with people that will help you grow, improve,” Fuller said. “And it was quickly in our relationship that I realized that was the type of person he was, somebody that I wanted to surround myself with.”
Their dynamic at Memphis was as competitive as it was collaborative. Fuller’s defense wanted to beat Norvell’s offense in practice, and the other way around of course, but only to the degree that it would help the Tigers win on Saturdays.
They did plenty of that. With Norvell and Fuller leading the way, Memphis recently polished off the first 12-win season in program history.
That Fuller didn’t think twice when Norvell came calling from FSU suggests he believes they’ll do the same in Tallahassee.
“The university itself was incredibly appealing and exciting,” Fuller said. “But the opportunity to stay with him … Mike does a great job of developing his coaches and hopefully that will continue to happen. And I was just fortunate enough to stay with him.”
When he’s not recruiting, evaluating or getting settled in, Fuller is immersing himself in FSU’s history and traditions as often as he can.
A child of the 1970s and 80s who grew up during the height of the Bobby Bowden Era, Fuller has reflected on the standard set by former coordinator Mickey Andrews and has already heard plenty of stories from defensive line coach Odell Haggins.
Like how the bucket of spiked baseballs in the coaches’ offices – the tradition started during Andrews’ tenure as a tribute to defensive shutouts – is not to be moved. No matter how unusual it may seem.
Fuller is impressed by all of those things, but, more than that, he’s impressed by the work that his predecessors put in to achieve them.
And he’s excited to carry on their legacy while writing his own chapter with the Seminoles’ defense.
“You’re learning about the special things about this place daily, which is great,” he said. “But just don’t get caught up with it. Because it’s about the work.
“You’ve got to be able to enjoy it, listen to the stories, appreciate them. But, again, these stories are only special because of the work the people have put in before us. So now it’s our turn.”