#NevadaGrit … more than a slogan
Sept. 2 @ Northwestern, TBA
Sept. 9 vs. Toledo, TBA
Sept. 16 vs. Idaho State, 4 p.m.
Sept. 23 @ Washington State, TBA
Sept. 30 @ Fresno State*, TBA
Oct. 7 vs. Hawaii*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 @ Colorado State*, TBA
Oct. 20 vs. Air Force*, 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 @ Boise State*, TBA
Nov. 11 vs. San Jose State*, TBA
Nov. 18 @ San Diego State*, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 25 vs. UNLV*, 1 p.m.
Bold denotes home game
* Denotes Mountain West game
Jay Norvell had a vision when he took over as the University of Nevada’s head football coach in early December, and one of his earliest announcements was a social media slogan — #Nevada Grit.
Norvell spoke about his vision Wednesday at the Carson Valley Inn during a Nevada Coaches’ Caravan appearance to explain his plans, philosophies and expectations for the Wolf Pack, who kick off their new era on Sept. 2 against Northwestern in Chicago. And he spoke of that slogan, which he always expects the Wolf Pack to show on the field.
“Nevada Grit to us means our mental toughness, our willfulness, our perseverance, our never-say-die attitude … never ever give up,” Norvell told an audience of about three dozen people in CVI’s Sierra Room. “If you have that mindset, you’re never going to quit on your goals and we’ve got to have that because we have long-term goals … to be special … to be a champion.”
Norvell, 53, was accustomed to success as a defensive back/linebacker, first at the University of Iowa, where he played for coach Hayden Fry, and later one season in 1987 for the Chicago Bears, where he played for coach Mike Ditka and with Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton.
Likewise, Norvell has experienced success in 30-plus seasons as a coach, including the 2008 season national championship game with the Oklahoma Sooners (24-14 loss to Florida) and with the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, a 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay in January 2003.
“All of those different experiences, I’ve learned a lot,” Norvell said. “I’ve learned a lot of good things. I’ve also seen a lot of mistakes that people have made, and I’m bringing all of that knowledge to this position. This is really my life’s work being here at Nevada and I’m really excited about it.”
He was hired on Dec. 9 and the first order of business was to hire a coaching staff.
“The most important thing for me was that I hire guys of great character who really care about kids,” Norvell said. “I’ve been to different places and I’ve met a lot of great people and I was able to pluck some people who I really felt would fit Nevada.”
Norvell started with Matt Mumme as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach to implement the Wolf Pack’s new Air Raid offensive scheme. Jeff Casteel was brought on board as the defensive coordinator, having previously worked under Rich Rodriguez with the 3-3 Stack, and Tommy Perry as special teams coordinator.
“I wanted to hire three guys that were experts in their system and I wanted to hire a great group of coaches to support them to run those systems and get them off the ground,” Norvell said.
Norvell was asked by one audience member to talk about the Wolf Pack’s offensive scheme — “How you’re going to score, and score a lot.”
“The biggest influence on me was when I coached with the Indianapolis Colts and we drafted Peyton Manning,” Norvell said. “Tom Moore was the (offensive) coordinator and his philosophy was that you give the quarterback freedom to change plays when the defense gives you (a different look). So he gave them that flexibility and I’ve always felt that’s the best way to play football. When you have a talented quarterback who’s smart, can throw the ball and attack the defense all over the field, you make them play honest. If you respect the quarterback’s ability to throw, then it really opens up your running game. So, we’re going to throw it and run it, be balanced and take advantage of what the defense gives us and make the defense defend the whole field.”
Norvell explained how Mike Leach — current head coach at Washington State, where the Wolf Pack play on Sept. 23 — and Hal Mumme collaborated to perfect Air Raid when they were coaching together at Kentucky. Hal Mumme’s son is now Norvell’s offensive coordinator.
“Hal Mumme studied with LaVell Edwards at BYU,” Norvell said. “He simplified it and put it into his own system, and over the years, he learned ways to go very fast. Hal and Mike Leach were coaches together, and they learned how to take this offense and turn it into their own simplified plan, add speed and tempo and play like a two-minute drill all the time.”
Former Nevada head coach Chris Ault and Hal Mumme appeared together at a Wolf Pack practice session in late April.
“Those two, coach Ault with the Pistol and Hal Mumme with the Air Raid, are probably the two most influential offensive minds in the last 30 years of football,” Norvell said. “We’re Air Raid, but we still run the Pistol; we still run with our back behind the quarterback and we run zone and zone reads, all the stuff coach Ault ran.”
Not surprisingly, finding such a quarterback was at the very top of Norvell’s recruiting list after he accepting the job at Nevada — David Cornwell, who spent three seasons at Alabama, as a redshirt in 2014, though he didn’t play the last two years.
“The first guy we recruited was David Cornwell, a graduate transfer from Alabama, a 6-5, 235 (pound) quarterback,” Norvell said. “They kind of changed their philosophy, and he’s a drop-back pocket passer, so he graduates after three years and has two years of eligibility left. Being a graduate transfer, he’s a smart kid so we brought him in and he fits exactly what we’re looking for, and he’s a guy we’re really excited about.”
Cornwell showed his potential on April 29 when he completed 22-of-33 for 302 yards and two touchdowns as he only played in the first half of Nevada’s annual Silver and Blue Spring Scrimmage at Mackay Stadium. Cornwell directed an offense that ran 53 offensive plays in the first half.
“So we want to play fast, that’s a big part of it.”
Not surprisingly, speed was a high priority in the search for wide receivers and Norvell listed four prize recruits who will be come in as freshmen this fall: Benjamin “Theo” Goodwin (Christian High School, El Cajon), McLane Mannix (who played his senior year at Midland High School, Texas) and Ian Zamudio (Notre Dame High, Riverside, Calif.) — all three have run sub-11 seconds for 100 meters on the track — in addition to 6-4, 210-pound Elijah Cooks (Atascadero High School, Calif.).
“Those guys are all athletic and have a chance to come in and give us some depth,” Norvell said. That’s one position that we felt we needed to use a lot of speed and athletic ability.”
Sophomore Brendan O’Leary-Orange (Toronto, Canada) stood out in the Silver and Blue Scrimmage as he caught 10 passes for 180 yards and a TD.
Norvell also spoke about the importance of depth and having multiple players at every position to create a stronger team.
“We’ve got to improve our roster,” Norvell said. “You’ve got to have enough competition at all the positions. We need guys behind them that are pushing them. That’s what will make them better players.”
Norvell spoke of three core values that are minimum requirements for the program.
■ “The first thing is to be respectful and be a gentleman. The reason is, in my adult life, the most successful people that I have ever met have been gentlemen. That’s just the way they carry themselves. So that’s expected of our guys.”
■ “The second thing is being accountable. Accountability, that’s being early, five minutes, before you’re supposed to be somewhere. Are you going to be on time? Do you know what to do? Can we depend on you? We’re looking for people that are dependable.”
■ “The third thing is simple. It’s just learning how to outwork the other guy, and we just call it hustle. But hustle is different than working hard. You have to learn how to outwork people in everything you do.”
It all ties together — action in the classroom, on campus and the community — Norvell added.
“The difference between successful and unsuccessful people … successful people are willing to do what’s hard, that’s necessary to win … and we want to make that choice all the time,” he said.
Norvell explained how he brought one tradition — that of tapping on a sign before leaving the locker room for the field — from the University of Oklahoma, where he served as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach from 2008-14.
“That sign in the locker room … “We’ll play like champions today” … Oklahoma has had it going back to the days of coach Bud Wilkinson and the win streak,” Norvell said, referring to the Sooners’ NCAA record 47 games between 1953-57. “What that means to us is you do the right thing, the right way, at the right time. You prepare that way and you work that way. For us, that’s the Nevada way.”