Can Norvell, Pack surprise teams? | RecordCourier.com

Can Norvell, Pack surprise teams?

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning …

All things considered, the Nevada Wolf Pack football team should start the 2017 season with a 1-3 record. Based on recent history, the Pack should beat Idaho State on Sept. 9 at home and lose at Northwestern (Sept. 2) and Washington State (Sept. 23) and at home against Toledo (Sept. 9). Jay Norvell could join Jack Glascock (0-4 in 1915), Chris Tormey (1-3 in 2000), Gordon McMahon (1-3 in 1955), Jim Aiken (1-3 in 1939) and George Philbrook (1-3 1929) as the only coaches in Wolf Pack history to win fewer than two of their first four games as Pack head coach. But don't bet on it. Norvell and his eclectic, unknown staff have the element of surprise on their side at least in the early going. Don't be surprised if they find a way to win at Northwestern, which was just 3-4 at home last year, or at home against Toledo, which lost star running back Kareem Hunt off last year's roster. Or both.

■ ■ ■

Norvell has put together the strangest, wildest and most interesting coaching staff in Division I. Raise your hand if you heard of at least three of these guys before — knowing their father does not count — or even the schools they coached for last year. They've come from high schools, junior colleges and almost all of the divisions below Division I that you can think of. They've got a former quarterback coaching receivers. Norvell, who obviously thinks outside the box, has assembled either the greatest group of hidden coaching gems or a bunch of guys who could end up as contestants on the new Gong Show. We'll find out this season. The coaching staff is the biggest question mark on this new version of the Wolf Pack, even more so than the players. But that is also their greatest strength. Look a little closer, past their strange backgrounds and unique resumes, and you will discover that Norvell has a method to his madness. He has put together a staff of men with one thing in common. They have all either been overlooked, undervalued, disrespected or even ignored in their careers and they all have something to prove.

■ ■ ■

The Northwestern game could kick start a very exciting season up on north Virginia street. What better way for a Wolf Pack coach to debut than to go to a Big Ten school's backyard and steal a victory? It would be the greatest victory by a Pack coach in his debut game in school history by far. But that isn't saying much. Jeff Horton (Wisconsin in 1993), Jeff Tisdel (Oregon in 1996), Chris Tormey (Oregon again in 2000) and Brian Polian (UCLA in 2013) were all handed body bag games to start their Pack careers. The other 21 Pack head coaches have a combined record of 14-7 in their debut games but the 14 wins came against the likes of Stewart Indian School (twice), Fort Baker, Chico State, Willamette, Cal State Hayward and Western Oregon State.

Recommended Stories For You

■ ■ ■

The most interesting game on the Wolf Pack schedule in the first month of the season — and maybe all year — is at Washington State on Sept. 23. It will be a matchup of Air Raid offenses and the skies above Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash., could be filled with more than 100 passes. Washington State coach Mike Leach worked under Hal Mumme — the father of Wolf Pack offensive coordinator Matt Mumme — at Valdosta State and Kentucky in the 1990s. The game on Sept. 23 will be a battle to see who learned the most from Hal. There also will be revenge on the line as the Pack beat Washington State in Reno in 2014. Washington State also has former Pack coaches Jim Mastro and Ken Wilson on their staff. It will be the rebel head coach (Leach) against the wild and woolly and unpredictable coaching staff at Nevada. It could be the craziest Pack game since Chris Ault went up against Chris Petersen and Boise State every year.

■ ■ ■

The Las Vegas Golden Knights now have a roster. And it is a surprisingly respectable group. Las Vegas' NHL team grabbed former Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in Wednesday's expansion draft as the first face of their franchise. Fleury alone will make the Golden Knights competitive next year. James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron, Cody Eakin and Oscar Lindberg have proven they can score in the NHL. But the Golden Knights still won't win many games. Las Vegas is in the tough Pacific Division along with the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes. A lot of teams that had a roster of players before Wednesday would struggle to make the playoffs out of the Pacific. But the product on the ice won't be the biggest concern next season. It will all be about what is going on off the ice and in the stands. Will Las Vegas support the NHL when the losses start to pile up? Las Vegas, don't forget, is where professional sports franchises go to die.

■ ■ ■

As expected, it seems like Colin Kaepernick's passion for football is now being questioned. Anyone who has watched Kaepernick over the years noticed a considerable drop in passion, excitement and a sense of urgency on the field from the quarterback last year in San Francisco. He certainly didn't play as if he was a quarterback whose NFL future depended on his performance. Former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis said recently on Fox Sports 1 that Kaepernick needs to make a choice. "Do you want to play football or do you want to be an activist," Lewis said. You could argue that Kaepernick could do both but Lewis's comments should not be ignored. NFL coaches obviously have serious concerns about Kaepernick's football desires. They don't want a quarterback whose focus and mind could be distracted.

■ ■ ■

Kaepernick can do what he wants to do and he most certainly will. This is a man who has clearly grown tired of following a safe and conservative career path and doing what is expected of him. Football is not the most important thing in his life anymore. And that is all well and good. He has very important work to do off the field and he should be commended for focusing on those challenges. But it does give us some insight as to why he has yet to find employment in the NFL. Maybe he just doesn't care about it as much as his fans do. Kaepernick could be a solid backup or even starting quarterback in the league. But his second career is now fully underway and it's not something he wants to put on the back burner. He is still filled with passion and energy. It's just not directed toward football like it used to be. Let's hope it is only a matter of time before he runs for public office.

■ ■ ■

When the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are both good in the same year it is good for baseball. You might not like anything east of Denver and are sick and tired of the national media's focus on the Yankees and Red Sox but the simple truth is that major league baseball needs the Yankees and Red Sox to be good. When the Yankees and Red Sox are boring and not meaningful the national media in June and July starts talking about LeBron James' off-season, Tiger Woods' back spasms and who will be the backup quarterback in Atlanta. That's been the case in recent years and baseball has suffered. Both the Yankees and Red Sox haven't made the playoffs in the same year since 2009. But it looks like this could be the year that streak comes to an end.