Joe Santoro: How desperate is Nevada Wolf Pack’s Jay Norvell?

Nevada head coach Jay Norvell talks with wide receiver Dominic Christian during the game against Hawaii on Sept. 28.

Nevada head coach Jay Norvell talks with wide receiver Dominic Christian during the game against Hawaii on Sept. 28.

Jay Norvell is scaring us.

Take away all sharp objects from the Nevada Wolf Pack’s head football coach. Put the men and women in white coats on alert. Norvell, it seems, is self medicating again.

“I’ll be honest,” Norvell said as he began his weekly Monday press gathering at Lawlor Events Center. “Last week was not a very fun week. It was a hard week for me personally.”

Norvell went on a seven-minute, rambling, long-winded, at times contradictory oration to open his press conference. There was no provocation or even a single question from the media. And he said most of it while flashing an eerie smile, which was the most frightening and disconcerting thing of all.

“We have to stop the bleeding,” said Norvell, whose 3-2 Wolf Pack will host the 3-2 San Jose State Spartans at Mackay Stadium on Saturday.

If you were taken aback and somewhat demoralized by the Wolf Pack’s 54-3 loss to Hawaii in front of a homecoming crowd at Mackay Stadium on Sept. 28, well, Norvell’s verbal response to it this past Monday was even more disturbing.

He talked of Navy SEAL(s), the evils of social media and cell phones, Bear Bryant and The Junction Boys and even the perils of watching movies on Netflix and listening to music on Pandora. How the Kardashians, Taylor Swift, Kanye West and Knute Rockne escaped his wrath, we’ll never know.

“If you pay attention to what the Navy SEAL(s) say, one of the things about mental toughness is, if you want to be mentally tough you take a cold shower in the morning,” Norvell said.

Wait, it gets better.

“I would love to turn the water off in Mackay and make our guys have cold showers everyday,” he said.

We thought the 54-3 loss to Hawaii and 77-6 loss to Oregon was enough of a cold shower. We were wrong.

“The other thing Navy SEAL(s) do,” Norvell continued, “Navy SEAL(s) jump in the water and they come on the beach and they roll around in the sand. And they do that because they learn to be uncomfortable. I would love to throw our players in a lake and have them roll around in sand and then go practice for two hours.”

You can’t make this stuff up, Wolf Pack fans. Your coach just might be two steps shy of staring at the Dog TV Channel for four hours straight. But at least he still has a sense of humor.

“If you walk around like this (Norvell put his open hand in front of his face, as if he was holding a cell phone), then you start thinking football is laser shows, all this other stuff. It’s all well and good. But it really isn’t real. You have to unplug sometime. We’re going to unplug this week.”

Yes, folks, keep Norvell away from any open electrical outlets. For his own safety, I mean.

“Football is about being uncomfortable,” he said. “We play outdoors. If it rains, we play in the rain. If it snows we play in the snow. It’s not basketball or volleyball.”

The gist of Norvell’s message on Monday was, basically, kids these days are soft. They are mentally weak. They are pampered, weak-minded, selfish, distracted and living in a me-first world.

“They got it pretty good in this country, growing up in the United States,” Norvell said. “They have everything at their disposal. These kids are a cloud generation, they have never been not connected to their friends with social media. They have their phones 24 hours a day, they get instant gratification from everything they do. If they want to watch a movie they go to Netflix. If they want to listen to a song they listen to Pandora. They can get whatever they want at their fingertips.”

It was as if Norvell was channeling his inner Paul Lynde in the movie Bye Bye Birdie.

“Kids, I don’t understand what’s wrong with these kids today,” Lynde sang. “Kids, who can understand anything they say? Kids, they are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy loafers.”

That was Paul Lynde singing those words. Not Norvell. We think.

“They don’t even have to think,” Norvell said. “They wait around for people to ask them a question and they punch it up on Google.”

That was Norvell. Not Lynde. We think. Norvell, though, is a brave man. Remember, he still has to get those pampered, self-centered, phone-in-the-face, weak-minded kids to win football games for him.

He also has to prevent an athletic director and university president to not think about making a coaching change. He said a few things on Monday that might (should?) make his bosses’ ears perk up.

“Consistency is overrated when you’re in a leadership position,” he said.

Excuse me?

“I’m obligated not to be consistent but to be right,” Norvell said.

Here’s another did-he-actually-just-say-what-I-thought-he-just-said moment. The plaques and trophies at Legacy Hall must have fallen down to the floor when Norvell said the following.

“Traditions are meant to be broken,” he said.

Tradition is all that mid-major programs like Nevada can sell their fans. National championships and consistency, after all, are out of the question.

“In this day and age there are a lot of rules that have been put in place to not make kids mentally tough,” he said. “So we have to do the best we can as coaches within the confines of the rules to makes kids mentally tough. You just can’t do the things (as coaches) that you used to do in football. You can’t coach a 21st-century football team with 20th-century tactics.”

And then he proceeded to tell us that he went back to some 20th-century tactics during Monday’s practice. Oh, you wanted consistency?

“We had a great practice today,” Norvell said. “It felt like it was 1979.”

Last time we checked, 1979 took place during the 20th century. But I will punch it up on Google and get back to you.

“We had an old school County Fair (practice),” said Norvell of a practice full of conditioning drills that are supposed to test a player’s will, determination, courage, physical and mental endurance. “Crabbing, blocking, tackling, change of direction. Beautiful things that have been lost in this game for a lot of years. I felt like I was in my first year in coaching. It was awesome.”

Norvell just wanted to get his players’ attention on Monday. He can’t, after all, do it verbally or with Twitter philosophy like “Nevada Grit,” that exists only on stadium banners and not in the players’ mindset.

“I can go have an hour-long conversation with a kid or I can just post something on social media and an 18, 19-year-old would probably put more weight on that Twitter post or Instagram post,” Norvell said. “That’s sad.”

Queue Paul Lynde one more time.

“Kids, you can talk and talk till your face is blue. Kids, they still do just what they want to do. Why can’t they be like we were? Perfect in every way. What’s the matter with kids today?”

Again, that was Paul Lynde. Not Norvell. We think.

Coach Grit, it seems, got his team’s attention with a Spartan practice while getting ready to play the San Jose State Spartans this week. We can’t wait until the Pack plays the Aggies, Cowboys, Rebels and Bulldogs. Think plow, a horse, a six-shooter and a dog catcher at practice.

It’s a wonder why Norvell didn’t make his players flip a gigantic tractor tire up and down Virginia Street to Circus Circus and back again on Monday. Think of the social media possibilities.

It must be noted that most coaches do that sort of survival-of-the-fittest practice in the spring and summer to separate the weak and meek from the tough, strong and mean. That way they can concentrate on silly things like strategy, execution and game plans during the season.

But, hey, Norvell is probably tired of trying to come up with ingenious game plans, crafty schemes, fancy new plays for the Air Raid offense and a defense that can actually knock down a forward pass now and then. It’s easier, after all, to coach crabbing, blocking and tackling. You know, some tried and true 20th century tactics.

“We can’t act like we’re Bear Bryant and The Junction Boys and running guys all over the place,” Norvell said. “We can’t do that anymore. They won’t allow it. The rules have changed.”

Darn rules. You can’t practice young men in 100-degree Texas heat for 12 hours a day without water. No wonder kids are soft these days.

“Quite frankly the rules have softened these young people,” Norvell said. “They are softer because the rules made them soft.”

That sound you just heard was a thousand high school football players clicking on Norvell’s unfollow button on Twitter.

Of course, what Norvell failed to mention was that Bryant’s famous Junction Boys team at Texas A&M went on to finish 1-9 in 1954. Crabbing and blocking and leaving a 19-year-old a step away from heat exhaustion, after all, can only win you so many games.

The good news is that this Pack team won’t finish 1-9. The biggest reason is, unlike the 1954 Texas A&M Junction Boys, the Pack doesn’t have to play Texas Tech, SMU, TCU, Baylor and Texas. The Wolf Pack gets to play the 21st century, social-media obsessed and football-challenged San Jose State Spartans, UNLV Rebels and New Mexico Lobos. Those three alone should get the three-win Pack to six victories and another meaningless bowl game this year. The other four games on the Pack schedule (San Diego State, Wyoming, Fresno State and Utah State, all on the road) will be a bit more difficult, but, hey, their rosters are full of phone-in-the-face 20-year-olds who spend their days and nights watching silly superhero movies on Netflix and flooding Twitter with words of philosophical wisdom. There should be a couple Pack wins tucked in there somewhere, too.

The Pack, after all, will hit the seven opponents still remaining on their schedule with some 1979 grit. The rest of the Mountain West beware. The 2019 Virginia Street Boys are on a mission.

“Be on time, pay attention, practice and play hard,” Norvell said. “It’s not rocket science.”

Norvell is building a team that would whip every team on the Pack’s 1954 schedule. So look out San Francisco State. Beware Humboldt State. Chico State, you boys are in for a beat down. The Virginia Street Boys are coming to your town to take no prisoners. And they won’t take even one sip of water.

“It’s not like punching an equation into Google,” Norvell said. “We don’t get instant answers in our line of business in college football.”

Some of what Norvell said on Monday was funny and some of it was inspiring. We like that Coach Grit is going back to the roll-around-in-the-sand, take-a-cold-shower basics. But most of what he said made you wonder if this guy even likes being a head coach coaching the young men of the 21st century.

It makes you wonder if the Pack did the right thing by hiring a then 53-year-old Norvell back in December 2016, a guy who is set in his ways after three decades of being an assistant. Young, media-friendly coaches with silly hair, Instagram accounts and cell phones attached to their faces are the latest trend, even in the NFL. Norvell, even three years ago, now seems like a 20th-century tactic.

Criticizing your players for using cell phones and social media is a dangerous thing these days. Check out the NCAA transfer portal. It’s full of guys who didn’t like their coaches. Telling those players they are soft and expect to be pampered is a 20th-century tactic that can get you fired in the 21st century.

It is also a bit hypocritical.

Coaches (even Norvell and his staff) use cell phones and social media more than anyone. It’s a big part of their job. Cell phones is how they recruit all of those 21st century players. Social media is how they combat all of the negativity from fans and smart-aleck comments by aging newspaper columnists after a 71-point loss. Coaches now live on social media. It’s how they recruit, remind everyone how smart and philosophical they are, tell the world what they accomplished and, yes, even pave the way for a new job.

That’s why it might not be social media and a pampered life in the United States that has made players soft both mentally and physically. Maybe it’s all of the rich coaches who make six and seven-figure salaries and drive around town in cars they don’t even pay for that has made the players soft.

Kids are no different than they were 50 years ago. They just want consistency from their leaders. They want guidance. They want to carve out a place in the tradition of their school. They want to be coached. They want to be shown how to become winners. They just want to be as rich and pampered someday as their coaches.

“Usually in this sport the most desperate team wins,” Norvell said.

If that’s the case, judging by what Norvell said on Monday, the Pack should go undefeated the rest of the way.


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