If Nevada Wolf pack wins, reward Norvell, Joe Santoro says | NevadaAppeal.com

If Nevada Wolf pack wins, reward Norvell, Joe Santoro says

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada coach Jay Norvell, shown against Fresno State on Nov. 23, has already earned contract extension, Joe Santoro writes.
Gary Kazanjian/AP | FR71556 AP

Sports fodder…

It is time for the Nevada Wolf Pack to show its trust and faith in Jay Norvell. If the Wolf Pack beats the UNLV Rebels on Saturday at Mackay Stadium the university should award Norvell with at least a three-year contract extension sometime before the start of the 2020 season. Norvell, who will have two years remaining on his current deal after this season, has clearly earned another contract from the Wolf Pack. Why not get it done now? The first-time head coach won eight games last year, including a bowl game. The last time that happened at Nevada was 2010. The Pack, now 7-4 overall, has a chance this year to win nine games and a bowl game, again for the first time since 2010. The university showed tremendous faith and trust in men’s basketball coach Steve Alford last spring, giving him a 10-year deal. And Alford had never even won one game for the Pack. Norvell has lifted the football program out of mediocrity.

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The timing of an extension, though, is important. The Pack cannot give Norvell an extension if the Fremont Cannon goes back to Las Vegas painted red Saturday. Yes, Norvell will be the same coach on Sunday morning win or lose on Saturday afternoon. And, yes, he would be the right man to lead the Pack through at least 2024 and beyond even if that cannon is still red next week. One game, in a perfect world, should not matter. But, in this case, it does matter. It’s all that matters. Nothing else matters. The UNLV game matters most of all when it comes to Wolf Pack football and its fan base. Norvell lost to the Rebels last year. You cannot give Norvell a contract extension after his second consecutive loss in the one game Pack fans truly care about each year. A win today makes everything easy.

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A nine-win season in football should be reason enough for a parade down Virginia Street. It has only happened 13 times in the history of Wolf Pack football (since 1896) and just five times since the school joined Division I-A (FBS) in 1992. Coach Chris Ault was the author of 10 of those nine-win seasons. Joe Sheeketski did it twice, in 1947 and 1948. Jeff Tisdel, who had Ault’s players, offense and constant, overbearing guidance, did it in 1996. Nine wins is a magical number in college football. Any team with a pulse and a cream puff schedule can win 6-8 games and go to a bowl game every year. But nine separates the puff from the powerful. A coach who wins nine games should be rewarded.

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Norvell, right now, deserves serious consideration for the Coach of the Year award in the Mountain West. His team was floundering along at 4-4 overall and 1-3 in the Mountain West in late October. He had already used three starting quarterbacks. He took over play-calling duties from his offensive coordinator. The defense couldn’t stop any team with a quarterback with five fingers on his throwing hand and the offense didn’t know what it was doing from play to play. Norvell went on a public rant at mid-season, saying his players were weak-minded, spent too much time on social media and were not doing what they were told. And, well, the Pack has not lost since. It’s the best coaching job in football at Nevada since Ault turned the program around in 2005 with a 9-3 record. Well, it could be. He needs to beat UNLV.

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The other coaches who deserve consideration for the Coach of the Year award in the Mountain West are Bryan Harsin of the 10-1 Boise State Broncos, Nick Rolovich of the West Division champion 8-4 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Craig Bohl of the 7-4 Wyoming Cowboys and Troy Calhoun of the 9-2 Air Force Falcons. Harsin has shuffled new quarterbacks in and out of his lineup this year and the Broncos haven’t missed a beat. Rolovich has also played musical chairs and found a way to squeeze a division title out of a team that has the worst travel requirements in college football. Calhoun just might be the best coach in all of college football, running an offense straight out of 1928 with a bunch of young men that consider football about the 12th most important thing in their lives right now. Bohl’s Cowboys live up to their name every year with toughness, grit and tenacity. The pick here is Harsin. He simply has higher expectations to deal with every year and this year the Broncos met most of them and won a tremendously tough division that had the top four teams in the conference.

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Norvell’s performance this year, though, is one of the best in Wolf Pack football coaching history. Don’t forget that this was a rebuilding year for the Pack, with a new quarterback, a new offensive line and a new defense. This Pack team is also not one of the most talented or experienced in school history. The Pack has dealt with four ego-crushing losses (Oregon, Wyoming, Utah State and Hawaii). Any one of the four could have destroyed the season. The offense has been running for its life all season long. The Pack has won seven games but they could have easily lost five or six of those games. They won those games because of coaching and because Norvell and his staff have instilled in them some of that cowboy toughness and grit. It could have been a disaster of a season. But Norvell and his staff have somehow found a way to put the program in position for one of its greatest seasons in school history. Now all they have to do is finish the job.

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Alford has also done a tremendous job so far this men’s basketball season. The Pack, which hosts Santa Cara this Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center, is 5-3 and coming off three impressive victories in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Alford also isn’t dealing with the most talented, experienced or deepest team in Wolf Pack history but he has somehow pieced together a unit that already seems to knows its roles and responsibilities just a month into the season. This hodge-podge group plays as a team, listens to its coach, knows its role and has a lot of fight. Not even former coach Eric Musselman could say that about his 29-5 Wolf Pack after every game last year.

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Alford is one of those rare coaches who can take someone else’s players, make them better, bring out the best they can offer and win with them. The players that Musselman left behind (Jalen Harris, Lindsey Drew, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, K.J. Hymes) are a big reason why the Pack is 5-3 right now. And Alford (not Musselman) deserves all of the credit for blending those players with newcomers Johncarlos Reyes, Robby Robinson, Zane Meeks and Kane Milling) into a competitive, consistent group that knows how to win games. Maybe it’s time to extend Alford’s contract another 10 years.

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Zouzoua, a senior, couldn’t get off the bench with Musselman as coach. The former Bryant scorer played in just 21 games a year ago and was never on the court at important times. He played just a total of 126 minutes all season long, averaging 1.3 points (27 total points) and one rebound. All of the inactivity and sitting on the bench destroyed Zouzoua’s shooting touch. He was just 3-of-29 on threes a year ago and 11-of-50 overall. And this was a guy who averaged 20.3 points as a sophomore at Bryant. Zouzoua, thanks to Alford, has revived his career this year. He has played in all eight Pack games for a total of 199 minutes. He is averaging 10.4 points a game, shooting 40 percent (14-of-35) on threes.