Joe Santoro: Norvell helps pay Wilson to replace him

Colorado State football coach Jay Norvell during spring practice on March 22, 2022.

Colorado State football coach Jay Norvell during spring practice on March 22, 2022.
Brandon Randall/CSU Athletics

If Ken Wilson doesn’t win a single game in his first two years as the Nevada Wolf Pack’s head football coach, well, don’t be too hard on Chris Ault’s coaching pseudo son. A winless Wilson, after all, would be simply giving the Wolf Pack exactly what it paid for. And that is, well, nothing.
The first two years of Wilson’s roughly $1 million-a-year contract, after all, will be paid for by Colorado State and former Pack coach Jay Norvell. The Coloradoan newspaper of Fort Collins, Colo., learned this week that Norvell will pay $1.3 million and Colorado State will dish out $600,000 to Nevada as the buyout penalty for Norvell’s decision to abandon the Pack and head to Colorado State last December. This is what happens when you make a lateral move in a meaningless mid-major conference. You end up having to pay the bulk of your own buyout.
This makes Norvell’s middle-finger-to-Nevada gesture last December even more of a spiteful lateral move than previously thought. We knew the moment Norvell left for Colorado State exactly how badly he wanted to get out of Nevada. But this makes Norvell look like the faux author who has written a book only because he paid the publishing company.
Yes, Norvell will earn an average salary of $1.8 million over the next five years at Colorado State. But it’s a fake $1.8 million which is appropriate for a coach like Norvell who has never won a big game in his head coaching career (check out all the Mountain West titles the Pack won under Norvell). This week’s news, though, does explain Norvell’s $1.8 million-a-year average salary. He, of course, is not a $1.8 million-a-year coach. It turns out he is more of a $1.55 million-a-year-coach.
Then again, Wilson, a lifelong assistant coach who likely could never get a Division I head coaching gig other than at Nevada, is likely not a $1 million-a-year head coach either. And he isn’t since Nevada only has to pay him roughly $3 million over five years. That sounds fair for a guy who might have taken the job for free.
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Don’t feel sorry for Norvell, a guy who has made a ton of money over his three-decade coaching career. Yes, technically, the $1.3 million he has to pay Nevada is coming out of his own pocket. But that money will never get anywhere near his pocket.
Don’t forget Norvell, like all pampered Division I coaches (yes, even Wilson), has a ton of easily-attainable bonuses written into his contract. If these coaches go the extra mile and, say, actually win games, they get more tens of thousands of dollars in the form of bonuses.
If Norvell wins just four Mountain West games, for example, he gets another $25,000. That’s like giving the guy who makes $40,000 a year another five grand for simply not stealing company property for a year. If Norvell gets the Rams to a bowl game (the equivalent of not punching your boss in the face for a year at your job) he gets $50,000 more and another $50,000 if he actually wins the bowl game.
So don’t feel sorry for Norvell because he has to pay alimony to the Pack in four installments of $260,000 because he cheated on Nevada last December and orchestrated the divorce. Feel sorry for the fans who have to sit through an endless streak of seven-win seasons and appearances in the Arizona and New Mexico Bowl as their head coach gets paid lucrative bonuses on top of his already garish salary.
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Norvell and his vagabond staff of ex-Wolf Pack assistants have talked about Colorado State since December as if they just landed jobs at Oklahoma, Nebraska or LSU. Well, Oklahoma, Nebraska or LSU likely wouldn’t have made Norvell pay his former school $1.3 million. But it’s as if Norvell thinks he is now in charge of a storied program full of tradition and championships.
We’re here to inform Norvell that Colorado State has not finished more than one game over .500 since 2014. It has not finished first in its conference since 2002. The Rams have not gone to a bowl since 2017 and have not won one since 2013. Over the last four seasons Colorado State has gone 11-29 and that was after one winning season from 2004-12.
The school Norvell abandoned last year that, according Norvell, has sub-standard facilities and support, has gone to a bowl game the last four years and in 14 of the last 17. It has 13 winning seasons in its last 17. It taught the NCAA how to perfect the forward pass in the 1940s and revolutionized offenses with the Pistol from 2005-12.
Norvell, though, wants everyone to know that he has finally landed in football nirvana in Fort Collins, Colo., after suffering through five years in a third world football country.
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Why didn’t Norvell wait for an offer from a school that could pay his Nevada buyout? Why didn’t he wait for an offer from a school with actual tradition and history instead of a school that thinks you can buy those things with a new stadium and plush new carpeting in the locker rooms? Norvell, apparently, didn’t feel appreciated in Nevada. He never felt Pack fans truly appreciated his amazing offense that featured incredible athletes like Carson Strong, Romeo Doubs and Cole Turner performing magic on a weekly basis. He said as much almost weekly last year, reminding fans repeatedly that the Strong-Doubs-Turner era at Nevada was winding down.
What he didn’t say was that his time at Nevada also was winding down. Norvell, it turns out, knew that a big-time offer from a big-time school was never going to come his way at Nevada. It likely won’t come at Colorado State either but that doesn’t matter. With Strong, Doubs and Turner leaving school, Norvell knew he was facing a rebuilding process at Nevada, a process that likely wouldn’t produce another Strong, Doubs and Turner. So he bolted for Colorado State and a big pay raise. Staying at Nevada, apparently, frightened Norvell.
He now has to rebuild Colorado State but at Nevada he would also have had to be reminded of how he wasted an explosive offense with a NFL quarterback and receivers and couldn’t even win a Mountain West title. At Colorado State he is now a very, very rich man (instead of just a rich man) and he is being hailed as a savior of a desperate program looking to justify building a new stadium. Colorado State is the perfect school for Norvell, a guy who only has to do the minimum (six wins and a bowl game) to be lauded (and paid) like he is the second coming of Sonny Lubick and Chris Ault.
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It is important to remember one thing this Mountain West football season. Whatever Norvell does at Colorado State this coming season he could have done the same at Nevada. That’s because he would have had basically the same players and assistants, many of which he poached from Nevada.
Oh, sure, he will praise the support from the Colorado State fans and athletic department after the 2022 season and he will fawn over the Rams’ like-new stadium and facilities. But we will know better. The 2022 Rams should have, could have been the 2022 Wolf Pack.
Norvell and his staff, though, are already talking about Rams’ fans as if they are the ones filling up Michigan’s Big House on Saturday afternoons. The Rams, by the way, averaged less than 6,000 fans a game more than Nevada last year. Norvell will tell you he won games at Nevada in spite of the lack of athletic department and community support. Listen to Norvell the last five years and he’d have you believe the Pack facilities were more conducive for a 1951 rugby team and not a 2021 football team.
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Jerry Scattini got fired. Jeff Tisdel got fired. Chris Tormey got fired. Brian Polian got fired. It wasn’t their choice to leave Nevada. Tisdel would likely still be the Pack coach if Nevada let him. It was Norvell’s choice to leave Nevada. Norvell, like Tisdel, could have ended his career a decade or so from now as the Pack coach.
It wasn’t, after all, as if he was ever going to be criticized in Nevada since he was operating in an environment where the media is basically an extension of the athletic department. Nevada was a perfect situation for Norvell, who would have always put an interesting and competitive team on the field. He might have even won a Mountain West title or two. That certainly would have been good enough at Nevada for a fan base that really only asks for cold beer at the games and a Fremont Cannon painted blue.
But Norvell pushed all that aside. Don’t forget that this season if and when Wilson wins just five or six games. Also don’t forget that Norvell is helping pay Wilson’s salary the next two years. What if Norvell actually pays Wilson this season to beat Colorado State on Oct. 8 at Mackay Stadium. That will feel better than a cold beer and a blue cannon.
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Wolf Pack star point guard Grant Sherfield announced last week that he has tossed his name into the NBA draft pool of players. He has until June 13 to withdraw his name and return to Nevada so this really means nothing. But if Sherfield leaves the Pack, well, the university should consider dropping the sport for a year and adding rugby. Desmond Cambridge has already officially left for Arizona State to, as expected, join his brother Devan. Warren Washington is also currently courting potential suitors in the transfer portal. The team is hanging by a thread right now. The loss of Sherfield would be devastating.
The good news, though, is that Sherfield heading to the pro ranks this year isn’t likely to happen. Players putting their name in the NBA draft pool has become sort of a rite of spring in college basketball. It alerts the NBA of their presence and starts the process of heading to the next level. It is difficult, however, to imagine a NBA team making the 6-foot-2 Sherfield a first-round pick on June 23. And it would be silly for Sherfield to leave school to become a second-round pick or an NBA free agent.
Yes, it might happen. Maybe Sherfield doesn’t want to play for a depleted Wolf Pack roster this season that will be missing Cambridge and Washington and anybody who can shoot. But odds are the Pack will find him some shooters and he’ll be back this fall.

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