Joe Santoro: Jay Norvell ‘is the perfect coach’ for Nevada Wolf Pack
Will Jay Norvell ever leave the Nevada Wolf Pack football program to become a head coach at another school? Doubtful. If it does happen, it will likely happen sometime after the next two seasons as the Wolf Pack attempts to maximize the end of the Carson Strong era at quarterback.
Norvell, under contract at Nevada through the 2024 season, has three big obstacles hurting his chances of getting a coveted Power Five head coaching job. He will be 58 years old in March. He hasn’t won anything meaningful yet as a head coach. No, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl wins do not qualify. And he would be a difficult sell for a Power Five school to its fan base because of obstacles one and two and because he is still relatively unknown nationally.
Norvell is a good coach. We’ll find out if he is great over the next two years. But you have to be great when you are pushing 60 and hardly anyone (namely the national media and Power Five fan bases) knows you if you want a Power Five job.
Norvell’s name was linked the past couple months to openings at Vanderbilt, Arizona and Illinois. But that means nothing in the internet age.
To get “linked” to a job now only requires some internet blogger sitting in his parent’s basement and wearing his Star Wars or Game of Thrones T-shirt to actually take a minute or two to research Group of Five teams with winning records. It’s doubtful Norvell was truly in the running to get any of those jobs. But that’s OK for Norvell because all three of those jobs will likely get you fired in three or four years.
Norvell, though, would have been perfect for Illinois. He is a Midwestern native (born and raised in Wisconsin and played at Iowa) and has Big Ten football blood in his veins. He also played a handful of games for the Chicago Bears. Norvell’s offense also would have made everyone in the Big 10 nervous.
Illinois, though, chose former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema. Why did they pick Bielema, even though they could have likely gotten Norvell for about half of what Bielema will be paid (about $4 million a year)? Bielema has an even better resume than Norvell and he is eight years younger than the Pack coach. The Illini, always desperate for attention in Big 10 country as well as the Chicago area, could sell Bielema much more easier to its fan base than Norvell. Heck, it wasn’t even easy to sell Norvell to Pack fans and still isn’t, considering all the empty seats at Mackay Stadium his first three (2017-19) seasons.
Norvell, though, is the perfect coach for Nevada. He’s not a young coach just looking to build his resume and use Nevada as a stepping stone and leave as soon as he catches lightning in a bottle with a lucky season. That sort of coach just keeps the Pack on a coaching treadmill that gets them nowhere. Norvell is an aging coach with a solid resume who will likely stay and build a program with a strong and stable foundation at Nevada. Lightning in a bottle will only serve to get him another three-year contract extension and not a job elsewhere.
Why would Norvell ever want to leave Nevada? And, no, money is likely not at the top of that list of reasons. Norvell has already earned a ton of money in his career. Money won’t be the reason why Norvell leaves the Pack. Norvell, it seems, would only leave the Pack to return to the top of his coaching profession, at a Power five school that can attract elite athletes.
Norvell has led a charmed life as a coach, rarely spending any time at a level below Power Five schools or the NFL. All he knew before he came to Nevada was recruiting and coaching elite athletes and competing in the national spotlight, two things that rarely come to North Virginia Street. One of his biggest regrets this season, he said, was not getting the Pack in the Top 25. He could do that every year at a Power Five school.
Norvell could remain at Nevada for another dozen years and legitimately toss his name into the conversation as the best coach in the program’s history. That would certainly be a great way to end a long career. If Norvell goes to a Vanderbilt, Arizona and Illinois, he is probably fired in four years and searching for an assistant’s job in his 60s. He would likely just retire if that happens and be quickly forgotten.
But he could coach until he is 70 and beyond at Nevada and shape Wolf Pack history and never be forgotten. The best coach in Pack history is, of course, Chris Ault and Ault will always own a special place in Nevada history. But Norvell can do a lot of the same things Ault did at Nevada and more and do them at a higher level.
The best head coaching job available in college football right now is at Boise State. Former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, currently the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator, will likely get the job as soon as the Cowboys’ season ends. Moore would be an excellent choice and keep the Broncos at or near the top of the Mountain West for another decade or longer. There is another coach available who would also be perfect at Boise. Chris Petersen, who had a record of 92-12 at Boise from 2006-13 before going to Washington, is currently out of work (his choice) and is one of the best coaches in college football history.
Boise State, which became a four-year school in 1968, has had incredible success hiring head football coaches. No coach who has coached the Broncos for more than one season (since 1968) ever left the school with a losing record. Head coaching choices have been the reason why Boise State has surpassed the Wolf Pack, especially since the late 1990s. When Boise State was hiring Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins, Petersen and Bryan Harsin, the Pack was hiring Jeff Tisdel, Chris Tormey and Brian Polian and had to bring Ault out of coaching retirement in 2004 just to right the ship. That’s why Norvell has been so important for the Pack. He has stabilized the program once again, something that no coach except Ault was able to do since Joe Sheeketski (1947-50).
If Norvell does leave Nevada in the next two years the Pack should look no further than Norvell’s staff for the replacement.
Offensive coordinator Matt Mumme would be a wild choice and could be either amazing or horrible as Pack coach but he’d never be boring. Wide receivers coach Eric Scott, a great recruiter, is young and personable will be a head coach someday if that’s what he wants. The same is true for tight ends coach Timmy Chang. Chang, a former star quarterback at Hawaii, is an up and coming coach who will also lead a program someday.
Norvell will only leave Nevada after enjoying great success and Mumme, Scott and Chang would continue that success.