Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
After leaving Dolphins, Surtain has new role with ’Noles
Florida State didn’t waste any time getting Patrick Surtain Sr. on the recruiting trail.
With a former NFL All-Pro defensive back now on the coaching staff, the Seminoles made sure to get Surtain in front of as many high school prospects as possible.
“I got here three weeks ago and they put me on the road the next day,” said Surtain. “But it’s been fun.”
It’s been a quick transition for the 46-year-old, who made the unusual career move of going from the NFL (Miami Dolphins defensive assistant) to become the Seminoles’ defensive backs coach.
While it was a tough decision, Surtain believes it affords him a more direct approach with the players. That’s something he cherished from his time as the football coach at American Heritage High in Plantation.
“In any profession, your goal is to move up,” he said. “I had a good run at the high school level, but I wanted to challenge myself, so when the Dolphins called, I thought it was a great opportunity. It was home and I didn’t have to uproot my family to go learn at the highest level.
“When I got the call from Coach [Mike] Norvell, it was a tough decision, but I decided it gave me more of a high school feel. I can have more hands-on with the guys. I can mold these guys into what they’re going to become and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Surtain played 11 seasons in the NFL for the Dolphins (1998-2004) and the Kansas City Chiefs (200508). Along the way, he became familiar with many of the coaches on the Seminoles’ staff, most of whom visited him at one time or another while recruiting his high school players.
“[Linebackers coach] Randy Shannon coached me with the Miami Dolphins,” said Surtain. “I know [running backs] Coach Dave Johnson because I’m originally from New Orleans and he played in New Orleans. I played
against [receivers coach] Ron Dugans. I know [defensive tackles] Coach Odell [Haggins]. I know [director of player relations Keiwan [Ratliff ] … I was familiar with a lot of guys on the staff and that made the transition much easier.”
When looking back on the performance of the Seminoles’ secondary in 2022, Surtain wants the group, ranked fourth in the country in pass defense, to do even more.
“We want to do more this year and take the ball away,” he said. “Being around football for a long time, if you’re able to win the turnover battle, you have a good chance of winning almost 85% of your games. So even though we held teams to 165 passing yards a game, the next step would be taking the ball away and giving it to our explosive offense.”
While Florida State finished with a positive turnover margin (plus-2) for the first time since 2016, its 8 interceptions ranked near the bottom half of the ACC.
Surtain benefits from being in charge of an experienced unit that returns five starters in cornerbacks Kevin Knowles II, Jarrian Jones and Renardo Green and safeties Shyheim Brown and Akeem Dent. Omarion Cooper, Greedy Vance, Azareye’h Thomas and transfer Fentrell Cypress also figure to play large roles in the secondary.
How Surtain plans to create an emphasis on takeaways is with practice.
“We have tackle turnover circuit daily in practice,” he said. “You’re punching the ball out and getting 11 hats to the ball. Don’t loaf because if you loaf on a pass, you might miss a tip or an overthrow. My goal is to get the guys to run to the ball on each play. When you run to the ball on defense, good things happen.
“The interception part of it is having guys play the ball better and getting their hands around where they need to be. It’s going to be a work in progress, but we have a group of guys to get it done.”
While Surtain is familiar with the recruiting process, having dealt with it as a high school coach and as a father of a player who would go on to become an All-Pro defensive back, he understands the challenge of recruiting at a program with the reputation of Florida State.
“If we’re going to get Florida State back to where it needs to be, we’ve got to go get the best players in the country no matter where they are,” he said. “Coach [Norvell] has taken heed to that and just let me go get the guys. It’s been a new experience, but it’s been worth it.”