Industry loses one of the good guys

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By Dan Johnson

The name Steve Ellis doesn't resonate in this part of the country.

However, mention the name in the south, particularly Florida, and Ellis's name was synonymous with two things: hard work and Florida State athletics.

Ellis passed away far too soon at the age of 54 on Nov. 19, nine days after suffering a heart attack. According to reports, the longtime Florida State University beat writer was in the middle of writing a story when the heart attack happened and he made sure his wife e-mailed in his copy before calling 911.

A true bulldog till the end.

Myself and my wife had the pleasure to work alongside Ellis when we moved to Tallahassee, Fla. in 2000 after my wife accepted a job to cover prep sports at the Tallahassee Democrat.

From the time we moved into town, Ellis took a liking to us and it was something we appreciated after moving 1,500 miles and not knowing a single soul. Ellis would often invite us out to dinner and we'd chat about a lot of things, but mostly Florida State, work, dating (before marrying four years ago, Steve was living the bachelor life when we knew him) and travel, usually in that order.

Ellis was responsible in a lot of ways for grooming me as a writer, and also introducing my virgin palette to new cuisines, such as alligator meat, which I actually came to enjoy very much.

I was wide-eyed and full of excitement when, after working as a freelancer covering preps for a year, I was given the opportunity to tag along with Ellis and write a sidebar story for a Florida State football game.

This was the big time to me, and I was clueless. Sure I'd covered football games before but covering (at that time) the top college team in the land? Where would I start? Who would I talk to?

Luckily, and not so luckily for me, Ellis had an idea.

As the Seminoles were in the midst of getting trounced by their rival, Miami (this was back when the Canes were rolling through everyone with Ken Dorsey, Andre Johnson and others leading the charge), Ellis leaned over and said: 'Why don't you do a sidebar on the defense? Make sure to talk to Mickey Andrews, the defensive coordinator.'

OK, sounded easy enough.

After the game ended, I made my way into the locker room, found a couple of players to interview, then proceeded into a lobby where the coaches usually gathered after their post-game meeting.

Andrews is easy to identify. The round face with glasses and stocky build was easy to spot in the crowded. Being young and eager, I approached Andrews, introduced myself and fired off a question.

A few seconds later, everyone swarmed around myself and Andrews. My next question (I can't remember what it was) must've either been really good or really annoyed Andrews (perhaps both) because he launched into a tirade that wound up making ESPN SportsCenter later that evening.

When I returned to the press box and told Ellis about Andrews's reaction to my question, he just smiled.

Flash forward eight years later and it was only fitting on Nov. 21 that on a day when Florida State took time out of its game against Maryland to honor Andrews, who's retiring at the end of the year, they also paid tribute to Ellis, a man who covered Florida State athletics with such passion and tirelessness that filling his large shoes is almost impossible to imagine.

Thanks for your friendship and professional advice, Steve. You will be sorely missed.