TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Kenny Dillingham wasted little time establishing expectations for Florida State’s new offense.
Hired last week by Mike Norvell to be Florida State’s offensive coordinator, Dillingham said that the new-look Seminoles are moving back toward the “pro-style” offense, but that they’ll move with the pace of the modern spreads.
More than anything, though, Dillingham expects big numbers up and down the box score.
“If you play quarterback here, you’re going to account for 3,500 yards, whether it’s rushing, whether it’s (passing), at a minimum,” he said during an introductory press conference on Monday afternoon. “And have roughly 35 touchdowns.”
That sounds like an awfully high goal, given that the last guy to check those boxes in a Florida State uniform won a Heisman Trophy.
But take a look at Dillingham’s track record – and his history with Norvell – and, all of a sudden, it seems much more attainable.
Norvell’s quarterback at Memphis in 2019, Brady White, threw for 3,560 yards and 33 touchdowns and added three more scores on the ground. And, during Dillingham’s and Norvell’s three years together with the Tigers, not a single quarterback threw for fewer than 3,698 yards or 32 touchdowns.
No surprise, then, that Dillingham plans to replicate that success in Tallahassee.
“We’re a system built for playmakers,” he said, echoing Norvell’s comments from last week.
“And when you look at that past, and you look at this offense and what it’s accomplished – I mean, Coach Norvell and this system, (it’s) one of two systems over the last seven years to have a 1,000-yard receiver every single season.”
Only 29 years old, Dillingham began coaching his high school’s junior varsity team at the age of 17.
A few years later, while coaching a high school team in Arizona, he first crossed paths with Norvell.
Norvell at the time was serving as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State when a young coach approached him.
“I was nervous and I walked over to him and I said, ‘Hi, I’m Kenny. I coach at Chaparral High School,’” Dillingham remembered with a laugh. “I thought that was it. Just wanted to meet him. He was the top mind in college football. …
“And he goes, ‘Hey, nice to meet you. If there’s anything I can ever do for you – (if) you want to come up to my office and watch film and sit in on quarterback meetings, you can.’
“Little did he know,” Dillingham continued, “that I was going to sit in every single meeting the rest of the spring.”
Their success at Memphis led Dillingham to an opportunity he couldn’t refuse, and he joined Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn prior to the 2019 season.
But even as he helped guide the Tigers to a 9-3 season, a top-10 national ranking and an emphatic win over Alabama to close out the regular season, Dillingham still kept tabs on his old friend up the road in Memphis.
They’d often talk scheme and football philosophy via text message, and would even send film clips for the other to analyze.
Dillingham was happy at Auburn, but when Norvell made the move to Florida State last week – and then offered Dillingham a place on his staff – it made for an easy decision.
“He’s always a guy I want to work for,” Dillingham said. “He’s ‘the’ guy I want to work for. …
“I know we have a really strong relationship and I know how well we work together.”
That will be a refreshing change of pace for the Seminoles, who over the last few years have seen their offensive coaching staff mixed and matched with various pieces from around the country.
While game-day responsibilities, play-calling and otherwise, have yet to be announced, Dillingham estimated that he and Norvell are “on the same page 99-percent of the time,” and that they’ll often bring similar ideas or approaches to a game plan without discussing it beforehand.
“The inner workings of how we operate is unique to probably anybody in college football,” Dillingham said. “… We just know how we think, we both know how we both want to attack. And I think that’s why it’s a unique dynamic between us. And that’s why I’m super excited to be back with him.”
That may be an understatement.
Asked how he and Norvell had picked things up after a year in different zip codes, Dillingham broke into a song:
“Re-u-nited and it feels so good,” he crooned, channeling the Peaches & Herb hit from 1979 – more than a decade before he was born.
Songs aside, Dillingham’s affection for Norvell is obvious. More than once he called Norvell one of the best offensive minds in college football, and praised the way that Norvell manages not only his players but his coaches as well.
Working for him is a challenge, but one that Dillingham knows comes with ample rewards. And it’s a challenge he could hardly wait to accept this time around.
“To be around a guy like Coach Norvell, one of the best offensive minds in college football, it challenges me,” Dillingham said. “It challenges our staff to put together the best plan. Because when you present it to Coach, when you do those things, the standard is excellence. And you’re going to have the answer. Every answer.
“Because that’s the standard he sets. And not just on offense. But in all phases of the program.”