Joe Santoro: The never-boring way of the Nevada Wolf Pack’s Jay Norvell | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: The never-boring way of the Nevada Wolf Pack’s Jay Norvell

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Nevada coach Jay Norvell talks to reporters in Reno on Aug. 26.
Scott Sonner/AP | AP

Playing in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is supposed to be about as meaningful, stressful and pressure-packed as a kindergarten soccer game on the playground at recess. Score? What score? Where’s my juice box? It’s Boise on a Friday afternoon in early January in a nobody-cares bowl game named after a starchy food associated with fat, lumpy guys sitting on a coach that watch, well, nobody-cares bowl games on a Friday afternoon. No pressure here. Nothing important in college football is supposed to happen in Boise on a Friday afternoon in early January. Well, that was before the Nevada Wolf Pack tracked mud on the carpet of their 2019 season by losing to the UNLV Rebels in late November. Bet you thought we forgot about that one, you know, in all the excitement and anticipation of the Couch Potato Bowl. No chance. The Fremont Cannon is red. All the potatoes in the world can’t fix that. The Wolf Pack made the Potato Bowl important by losing to UNLV. The Pack has to beat Ohio to keep this season from becoming a huge disappointment.

•••

A victory in the nobody-cares Arizona Bowl last year over Arkansas State worked wonders for the Wolf Pack. It, of course, meant nothing and didn’t solve anything. But it made everyone forget about that horrendous 34-29 loss at UNLV a few weeks earlier in Las Vegas that saw the Pack cough up a 23-0 lead. The Pack beat Arkansas State, got its eight-win season and all everyone in silver and blue talked about all off-season was how confident they were heading into 2019. Fremont Cannon? What Fremont Cannon? Hardly anyone on North Virginia Street mentioned that embarrassing loss in Las Vegas anymore. It was as if it didn’t happen because, well, the Pack was king of the Arizona Bowl. That’s what victories in meaningless bowl games can do for a team. They mask a lot of problems and give false hope. Yes, of course, those problems always seem to come back the following season, for example, in a stunning loss on your own home turf against your hated rival. But, hey, the year ended with a win over a mediocre team from a mediocre conference in a mediocre bowl. All is good. The same will happen this year if the Pack wins all the potatoes.

•••

Jay Norvell never ceases to amaze us with his unique, confusing, never-boring Norvellian way of doing things. He is doing it again this Friday in Boise with three new defensive assistants in what amounts to a weird, surreal Wolf Pack Idol coaching tryout in the Potato Bowl. Jody Sears, Josh Brown and John Landwehr will help coach the Pack defense in the bowl game without, we’re told, being permanent members of the coaching staff. The three so-called interim coaches joined the program when Jeff Casteel, David Lockwood and Mike Chamoures were all forced to hand in their Grit Club memberships last month. It was, it appears, the Pack’s version of Casteel Day, sort of the turning point of the Norvell Revolution. Who fires assistants before the bowl game and brings aboard three guys for a month in a tryout? Not even Taco Bell would do that for the guy who puts the cheese on the tacos. But that’s the Norvellian Way. Norvell insists that the three tryout coaches have not yet secured permanent positions, that he will continue to interview candidates for the jobs after the bowl game. Who would apply for the job now, knowing that another candidate has already been a part of the program for a month? Is this really the best way to ensure that you will get the deepest and most qualified pool of candidates for the jobs? Is Norvell really choosing his next defensive coordinator based on a few practices in December and a nobody-cares bowl game against the Ohio Bobcats on a Friday afternoon in Boise? This might be the most Norvellian thing we’ve seen.

•••

The Wolf Pack basketball team played a lot better during Wednesday night’s 67-61 victory over a mediocre Colorado State team than the score might appear. The Pack led the game for over 35 minutes. It led by 20 or more points for over 20 minutes. The Pack bench outscored Colorado State’s bench 26-9. Freshman Zane Meeks had four threes in the first half. Junior Jalen Harris, this year’s version of Cody and Caleb Martin, had 20 points, 15 in the second half when it was needed the most. The Pack had two scoreless three-minute stretches in the first half and another three-minute dry spell in the second half so they basically scored all 67 of their points in 31 minutes.

•••

Lindsey Drew continues to be the Pack’s invaluable jack of all trades. There’s no player in the Mountain West that can do all of the things Drew does seemingly effortlessly night after night at a high level. Drew, the ultimate team player, took just six shots on Wednesday and made four on his way to an efficient eight-point night. Drew has now taken just 43 shots over his last six games, making 26 (60 percent) while scoring 56 points. He also has 24 assists, seven steals and 34 rebounds over those six games. This is the same guy who took 32 shots in the Pack’s first two games and scored 54 points because Harris, the Pack’s top scorer, was out with an ankle injury. Whatever the Pack needs – scoring, rebounding, facilitating, defense, leadership – Drew is around to provide it. He is the glue that keeps this team together.

•••

The UNLV Rebels might actually have a real basketball coach. T.J. Otzelberger’s Rebels stunned defending Mountain West champion Utah State 70-53 Wednesday night in Las Vegas. Otzelberger, who coached South Dakota State to a 70-33 record the past three years (he narrowly lost to the No. 7 Wolf Pack last year at Lawlor, losing just 72-68), has the Rebels (7-8) pointed in the right direction with a three-game winning streak. Utah State was without seven-foot sophomore Neemias Queta on Wednesday, but Otzelberger’s Rebels held the normally efficient Aggies to 2-of-19 shooting on threes and 17-of-52 (33 percent) overall. UNLV, one of just three Mountain West teams remaining with a perfect league record along with the Pack and San Diego State, comes to Lawlor on Jan. 22.

•••

Former Pack point guard Cody Martin seems to be carving out a role in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets. The 6-5 Martin (he was 6-7 at Nevada), who was a second-round pick of the Hornets last June, has played 27 games with the Hornets and is averaging 4.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 15 minutes a game. He had 11 rebounds against Indiana on Nov. 5, 10 points against Oklahoma City on Dec. 27 and 11 against Utah on Dec. 21. Cody’s brother Caleb has gotten just five games with the Hornets and has spent the bulk of the year playing in the G League at Greensboro, N.C. The Martin twins played four games together at Greensboro about a month ago and, just like their Pack days, both filled up the stat sheet. Cody had 21 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals and Caleb had 23 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals in a 123-117 loss against Capital City on Dec. 1. Cody had 30 points on six threes and Caleb had 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists on a 112-111 loss to Lakeland on Dec. 6. Another former Pack player, Jordan Caroline, has played six games in the G League with the South Bay Lakers and is averaging 10.2 points, 7.5 rebounds a game.