Mike Norvell was Florida State’s first interview, more than a month ago during a bye week in Memphis’ schedule. The search for a new coach at times took school administrators around the country, but they kept coming back to Norvell.
“We really liked him,” athletics director David Coburn said. “The whole way. This guy wanted to be here. Of all the ones we talked to it was crystal clear with Mike that he wanted this job. And he had other opportunities.”
Just a day after Norvell guided Memphis to a victory in the American Athletic Conference title, he was on a plane to Tallahassee, Fla., and was introduced as the Seminoles’ 11th full-time coach. The 38-year-old Norvell has agreed to terms on a six-year deal and takes over a Seminoles program that has struggled while he was helping to build Memphis into a Group of Five power with what annually was a top-10 offense.
Florida State is six years removed from a national championship but is in need of repairs after falling apart late in the Jimbo Fisher years and then suffering through a 9-12 record with Willie Taggart – including a combined 0-3 mark vs. Florida and Miami before he was fired on Nov. 3.
Norvell said he was a 12-year-old growing up in Dallas when he put his first piece of college memorabilia up on his wall: a 1993 Florida State national championship license plate.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” Norvell said. “There is a tradition of excellence here. There is a standard. Success is coming. There are great days ahead.”
Florida State administrators reportedly talked to Penn State’s James Franklin, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, and each of those coaches reached an agreement to a contract extension in recent weeks. But Norvell was the only person that Florida State offered the coaching job, president John Thrasher said.
Taggart was dismissed on Nov. 3. The Seminoles, who won the 2013 national title, finished the season becoming bowl eligible at 6-6 under interim coach Odell Haggins.
“I want to be the coach that gets us back,” Norvell said.
Norvell will leave Memphis having posted the highest winning percentage in Tigers’ history. He built on the foundation left by Justin Fuente when he left the Tigers for Virginia Tech and he led the Tigers to the first 12-win season in school history. Named Memphis’ head Dec. 4, 2015, Norvell won at least eight games in each of his four years here and reached double digits twice, including this year.
Memphis wrapped up its program-record 12th victory at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference championship win over Cincinnati.
He brought a creative approach to Memphis, where he called the bulk of the team’s plays even as he had a different coordinator each season.
His offense became known for its explosiveness, leading to big plays. This season, the Tigers are 10th in the nation averaging 483.5 yards a game – 196.4 on the ground and 287.1 through the air — before Saturday’s championship game. His teams scored at least 2,147 points in less than four seasons — more than seven individual decades of Memphis football.
While Norvell lacks head coaching experience at the Power 5 level, he has been the offensive coordinator at Arizona State and the co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach at Pittsburgh.
Thrasher said that Norvell’s name came up two years ago when Florida State was looking to replace Jimbo Fisher, who departed for Texas A&M. The search in 2017, picking Taggart, took under a week. This time, Thrasher said they wanted to “take our time.”
Taggart had just one year of experience at a Power 5 school, at Oregon, in 2017. Norvell has just four years of experience at a Group of Five school. And Norvell’s resume is similar in that he’s an innovative offensive mind, a parallel to what Taggart had shown in his career.
What’s the difference between Taggart and Norvell?
“He’s a winner,” Thrasher said. “I think the guy has proven he’s a winner. He’s proven he can recruit. I think he’s proven he can bring a program that’s down up. I think he has the passion that I look for in every single person. I believe he’ll bring that to Florida State.”
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