Joe Santoro: Extending contract of Nevada Wolf Pack’s Jay Norvell was smart move | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Extending contract of Nevada Wolf Pack’s Jay Norvell was smart move

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Jay Norvell this past week became certified as one of the most successful head coaches in the history of the Nevada Wolf Pack football program. No, the Mountain West didn’t reverse the scores of the last two UNLV games. When we say successful, we don’t necessarily mean on the field. Norvell is now one of the most successful (and richest) head football coaches in Nevada football history because he signed a three-year extension through the 2024 season this past week. Forget goofy things like winning the majority of your games, beating your rival consistently and selling tickets. Those are just for fans, boosters and media to talk about. Coaches, because of their ridiculous six and seven-figure salaries these days, now have just one goal in mind when they step on campus for the first time: to get a second contract. Norvell has accomplished his goal. Coach Grit’s record after three seasons is an uninspiring 18-20 overall, 12-12 in conference play and 1-2 against UNLV. And Mackay Stadium is still as lively as the Black Rock Desert a month after Burning Man. Does Norvell’s on-field performance scream out extension? It didn’t for Brian Polian after his first three seasons. But Polian was hired by athletic director Cary Groth who was replaced by Doug Knuth three months later. Knuth then fired Polian after the 2016 season, hired Norvell and gave Norvell an extension. Everything about Norvell, like Polian, screams out mediocrity. But that’s all it takes at Nevada to be rewarded if the athletic director that hired you is still around to give you an extension.

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Norvell, if all goes as planned, will be paid at Nevada through the 2024 season, his eighth at the school. Just four other Pack coaches in school history (Chris Ault, 28 years), Dick Trachok (10), Jim Aiken (eight) and Jerry Scattini (seven) coached the program more than five seasons. It must be noted that Trachok and Scattini, who combined to coach the program from 1959-75, also weren’t all that good on the field. Trachok was 40-47-3 and Scattini was 37-36-1. But Trachok was hired by athletic director Jake Lawlor, who remained in his job until Trachok replaced him in 1969. Trachok then gave Scattini the top football job mainly because Scattini was already a Trachok assistant. Trachok only fired Scattini when Ault, who played quarterback for Trachok at Nevada, wanted to return to Nevada as head coach after the 1975 season. Ault stayed around forever, quitting three times and coming back twice, helped by the fact that he also became athletic director when Trachok retired in 1986. It pays to have connections at Nevada if you want more than one coaching contract. And you thought winning games, beating UNLV and filling the stands with fans was important.

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Chris Tormey was just 16-31 at Nevada and was hired and fired by the same athletic director (like Scattini). But Tormey, who improved his record every year in four seasons, had one big problem at Nevada. His athletic director (Ault) wanted to be football coach again (in 2004). Scattini’s problem was that Trachok’s Pack quarterback (Ault) wanted to be the Pack football coach in 1976. Ault probably wanted to be the Pack coach again in 2017 but Knuth was the Pack athletic director at the time. He only knew Ault by looking in the media guide. The winning and losing of games has had very little to do with the longevity of Pack football coaches.

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Knuth, though, really had no other choice but to offer Norvell an extension right now. Who else is going to coach Wolf Pack football? Yes, Ault is available but Ault is now 73 years old. Former Boise State and Washington coach Chris Petersen is also available. But Knuth has already given out his allotment of million dollar yearly salaries to hoops coach Steve Alford. As we’ve seen the past 70 years or so, when the coach is not named Ault, the Pack doesn’t have all that good of a track record when it comes to hiring head football coaches. Norvell is as good as anybody and better than most. And forget that 18-20 career record. Norvell is about to win big at Nevada. He finally has a quarterback (Carson Strong) that he can nurture for the next three years. Norvell will likely average nine wins a year over the next three years with Strong. Right now, before the 8-10 win seasons start to pile up, was the cheapest Norvell was ever going to be for the Pack.

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Norvell has only been at Nevada three years but he is already among the longest tenured head coaches in Mountain West football. No less than six Mountain West teams (UNLV, Fresno State, San Diego State, Hawaii, Colorado State and New Mexico) will have new head coaches in the fall. Ault’s biggest strength at Nevada was always the stability he gave the program. Norvell, by simply getting a contract extension, is now also giving the same thing to the Pack. Knuth is smart enough to realize this.

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San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan was hired in 2017, like Norvell at Nevada. Brennan, though, is just 8-29 in three years overall, 4-20 in Mountain West games and has yet to go to a bowl game. Brennan also got a three-year extension back in December through the 2024 season. Giving mediocre and losing coaches extensions is just the nature of Mountain West football. Mountain West athletic directors are just happy they don’t have to go through the tedious task of finding a new coach every three or four years.

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The only team that clearly does not have to win the Mountain West men’s basketball tournament this week in Las Vegas to get to the NCAA tournament is the San Diego State Aztecs. The Mountain West’s problem when it comes to getting at-large bids to the NCAA tournament is that its teams simply do not play enough Top 25 teams during the season. The entire conference combined this year to go 1-24 (mainly against San Diego State) against Top 25 teams with the only win being UNLV over San Diego State. The conference played just five Top 25 opponents outside of the Mountain West and lost all five to Oregon (twice), Duke, Arizona and Auburn by an average of 31 points.

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Why did Eric Musselman leave Nevada for Arkansas? Well, other than a $2.5 million base salary? It’s because Musselman’s Razorbacks are just 19-11 overall right now (like the Pack’s record going into Las Vegas this week) and is still considered a bubble team for the NCAA tournament. Arkansas is also just 7-10 in the SEC this year and hasn’t even beaten a Top 25 team all year. The Razorbacks started 14-2 and have been just 5-9 since the middle of January. And they are still on the NCAA bubble because they are in the SEC. It’s not fair but the NCAA is not fair. Norvell’s Wolf Pack football team can go 12-0 every year and never play for a national title. That’s why the key for Nevada is to find good coaches who aren’t always chasing big money and glory elsewhere. Norvell and Alford, it seems, are those types of coaches.