Jay Norvell is a great fit as Nevada Wolf Pack football head coach, says Joe Santoro | NevadaAppeal.com

Jay Norvell is a great fit as Nevada Wolf Pack football head coach, says Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Sports fodder for a Friday morning … Jay Norvell, when he officially becomes the next head coach of the Nevada Wolf Pack, will be the most qualified man to ever hold the position in school history. The 53-year-old Norvell played Big 10 football at Iowa. He began his full-time coaching career in 1988 at Northern Iowa. He played in the NFL for one season (1987) with the Chicago Bears. He coached six seasons in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders. He has been an offensive coordinator at Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma and Texas. He has also coached at Wisconsin, Iowa State and Arizona State. He has written two books on playing the position of wide receiver. He has coached in the BCS championship game with Oklahoma in 2009 and the Super Bowl with the Raiders in 2003. Norvell has clearly earned the opportunity to become a head coach at the Division I-A level. He's paid his dues. We can now put to rest the ridiculous excuse-filled notion that the Wolf Pack would never have enough resources to hire a qualified head coach.

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Norvell earned $380,000 this past season as the Arizona State wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator, according to USA Today. The most he's earned in a year was $455,000 as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator in 2014. The Wolf Pack will likely pay him about $550,000 a year, give or take an incentive or a bonus here or there. So he fits at Nevada in every way. Wolf Pack Athletic Director Doug Knuth, as expected, is getting the most out of his Wolf Pack dollar. He's getting a battle-tested, tough, experienced, innovative coach who will command the respect of the locker room, the university and the community. Knuth has dramatically changed the course of the Pack's three most high profile sports for the better, hiring Eric Musselman for men's basketball, Norvell for football and Jay Johnson and T.J. Bruce for baseball. It is amazing that the very same school could hire football coach Brian Polian (striking out with the bases loaded) and athletic director Doug Knuth (hitting a grand slam) just a few months apart in early 2013.

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Norvell coached the Indianapolis Colts wide receivers from 1998-2001 while Bill Polian, the father of mutually departed Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian, was the Colts general manager. But don't hold that against Norvell. That might be the only connection between Norvell and Brian "Keep Chopping" Polian. Norvell, it seems, is a tough, hard-nosed disciplinarian from the Chris Ault school of leadership. On Twitter this past season Norvell wrote, "Warriors never make excuses. They just take challenges head on." Refreshing.

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Norvell is an example of hard work, perseverance and overcoming obstacles. All college coaches have their ups and downs during their careers and Norvell is no exception. Charlie Strong gave Norvell play-calling responsibilities a game into the 2015 season and then relieved him of those duties after the year. Bob Stoops, who played and coached with Norvell at Iowa, fired him from Oklahoma's staff in 2014. Norvell was part of Karl Dorrell's staff at UCLA that was relieved of its duties after the 2007 season. Strong left a sinking ship at Nebraska in 2006, one year before head coach Bill Callahan was fired. He went with Callahan from the Raiders to Nebraska in 2004. He had to leave the Colts after the 2001 season when Bill Polian fired head coach Jim Mora. Getting fired, losing job titles and jumping from job to job is just part of the coaching profession. It all added up to Norvell landing at Nevada and the Wolf Pack now gets to benefit from all of his experience.

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The other two finalists for the Pack job – Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin and Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig – also would have been great choices to become the Pack's head coach. But Norvell is the best fit among the three. Baldwin has a great situation at Eastern Washington and is the Chris Ault of Cheney. Baldwin can coach another two decades at Eastern Washington if he wants to. Ludwig is a SEC coordinator. He will always have head coaching opportunities and chances to make a lot more money than he would ever make at Nevada. He could very well become the next head coach at Vanderbilt in the near future. Norvell has bounced around since getting fired at Oklahoma after the 2014 season. Nevada in 2017 will be his fourth job in the last four years. You can be sure he is looking for some stability as well as the opportunity to finally build a program in his own image. The Wolf Pack is looking for the very same thing after the Polian era.

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Norvell's brief (six games) NFL career was hatched because of the 1987 NFL strike. He was one of the "Spare Bears" during the 1987 strike for Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka. Norvell, an undersized (6-foot-2, 232-pounds), undrafted linebacker from Iowa, had two games during the three strike games with two interceptions each (against the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles). One of his teammates on the Spare Bears was quarterback Sean Payton, the future head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Norvell, a linebacker with the Bears, impressed Ditka and the Bears so much that they added him to the roster for three games late in the 1987 season after the strike was over to stand on the sidelines and watch regular linebackers Mike Singletary, Wilber Marshall and Otis Wilson. Another one of Norvell's teammates on the 1987 Bears was future Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

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One of the wide receivers that Norvell coached in the NFL was Trevor Insley of the Wolf Pack while with the Indianapolis Colts. Insley played 11 games and caught 14 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, playing behind starters Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Terrance Wilkins in 2001. The Colts quarterback that season was Peyton Manning. Norvell is one of the top wide receivers coaches in the country. He has even written two books (Route Running for Wide Receivers and The Complete Wide Receiver) on the subject. Jerry Rice and Tim Brown were with the Raiders with Norvell, though Norvell was technically the tight ends coach. Norvell also developed future NFL wide receivers Sterling Sheppard (New York Giants) and Kenny Stills (Miami Dolphins) while at Oklahoma. Returning Wolf Pack wide receivers Andrew Celis, Victor Gonzalez and Wyatt Demps, among others, (not to mention quarterback Ty Gangi) just got an early Christmas present.

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Norvell will return the art of coaching to the position of head coach at Nevada. The Madison, Wisc., native is, above all else, a coach and a teacher, just like Chris Ault. He makes players better. Polian was a CEO. At best he was a program builder, like his father. He was the face and the voice of the program but he didn't make players better. He didn't make his assistant coaches better. Polian went out and got players and left the coaching to his assistants. That could work at places like Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas A&M, where Polian came from, but a school like Nevada can't afford to have a head coach that is merely a CEO. Nevada must get every ounce of value it can get out of every single dollar it can muster. Norvell will make his players and his coaches better. That's what Ault did for three decades and it's why the Wolf Pack was consistently good – and sometimes great – for three decades.

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