TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Put down the tea leaves and close out those flight trackers. After a five-week hunt, the Florida State Seminoles have their man.
FSU announced Sunday that Mike Norvell, previously the head coach at the University of Memphis, would be the Florida State football program’s 11th full-time head coach.
Norvell, 38, brings an impressive resume to Tallahassee, one that got an emphatic exclamation point on Saturday when his No. 16 Tigers polished off a 12-1 season and won their first outright conference title of any kind since 1969 with a 29-24 victory over No. 21 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game.
Memphis, 38-15 in four seasons under Norvell, is likely off to the New Year’s Six Cotton Bowl. But Norvell is on his way to Tallahassee, where he’s tasked with performing a similar feat with the Seminoles.
There are lots of reasons to think that he will. Among them:
Early exit polls from some national media suggest that the Seminoles hit a home run.
USA Today’s Dan Wolken on Twitter called Norvell “tremendous,” while ESPN’s Chris Low tweeted out an exchange that illustrates Norvell’s attention to detail.
Good get for @FSUFootball. One FBS coach told me that @Coach_Norvell was the total package. “He can tell you every position’s responsibility on every play and then jump right in and tell you the little sister’s name of their top recruit.” https://t.co/JcokgLQvsh
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) December 7, 2019
After Memphis won Saturday, and as reports began pouring in that Norvell would be a Seminole, the platitudes only continued.
Those that spoke loudest seemed to come from those who got to know Norvell during his time at Memphis:
Norvell did as well as you can with those questions. Florida State is gettin an absolute gem. That guy gave his heart and soul to Memphis and that program, and made the job and program infinitely better than ever before. I’ll always root for him.
— Chris Vernon (@ChrisVernonShow) December 8, 2019
Dear @Coach_Norvell: Thanks for four great years — and for producing the best season in Memphis Football history. It's been a blast to watch. Good luck at Florida State.
Dear FSU fans: Your school has made an incredible hire. If you don't already know, you'll know soon enough.
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) December 8, 2019
Then again, as Florida State fans are well aware, talk can be cheap – especially in December. The Seminoles have a lot of work to do on their journey back to national prominence, and with a 2020 schedule that features games against West Virginia and Boise State in the first three weeks, Norvell won’t be able to ease his way into the captain’s chair.
But it should be encouraging to look back at what Norvell said when he was introduced at Memphis, and then see all the ways he followed through.
At his first press conference, a little more than four years ago, Norvell told reporters:
“We’re going to play smart. We’re going to play fast. We’re going to play physical. And we’re going to be passionate about finishing everything we do.”
Later, in an interview with the school’s official website, Norvell said:
“There is no acclimation. We’ve got to hit the ground running. We’re not wasting one day, we’re not wasting one second.”
That’s the proper sentiment, first of all because the early signing period for the recruiting class of 2020 begins on December 18 and Norvell will be busy on the trail between now and then.
More than that, it shows that Norvell has a proper understanding of 1) the expectations at a major college football program and 2) what it takes to reach them.
Even better, Norvell backed up his words.
His first Memphis team went 8-4 in the regular season and quickly announced its presence with a rout of Big 12 program Kansas and later with a victory over No. 18 Houston.
The next year, the Tigers racked up 10 wins and took the undefeated UCF Knights – likely the best team in the state of Florida in 2017 – to two overtimes in the AAC Championship Game.
In the last three seasons, Norvell’s Tigers have never ranked lower than 10th nationally in total offense and no lower than eighth in points per game.
And Memphis’ defenses have made steady improvement in each of his four years – up from 106th nationally in total defense in 2016 to 50th this year. This season’s Tigers also average more than 2.46 sacks per game and have more than 90 tackles for loss.
“The transformation of Memphis’ program under Norvell has been stunning,” ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Adam Rittenberg wrote Saturday. “The Tigers have won eight or more games for six straight seasons, and Norvell has been at the helm for the past four. From 1974 to 2013, the Tigers had just two seasons of eight or more wins.”
At Florida State, Norvell will be tasked with engineering that type of transformation.
The Seminoles, in the College Football Playoff just five years ago, are in the midst of a dry spell, having gone 18-19 since the start of the 2017 season.
That includes a 1-8 mark against rivals Florida, Miami and Clemson, but mixed in is a handful of sour results against some teams that Florida State is accustomed to beating on an annual basis.
Righting those wrongs might not come easily, but, with the right man in place, it might not take all that long, either.
Just look at Baylor, which on Saturday made it to the doorstep of the College Football Playoff in Year 3 under coach Matt Ruhle. Or, for a less palatable example, look at Florida’s progress in two years with coach Dan Mullen. The Gators were 4-7 and in disarray in the year prior to Mullen’s arrival. They’ve since gone a combined 20-5 in the last two seasons.
That type of stage could be set for Norvell’s Seminoles. But to reach it, he and the team must heed those same wise words he spoke at Memphis four years ago.
Hit the ground running. Don’t waste one day. Don’t waste one second.