Norvell ready to win now
Special to The R-C
Jay Norvell has already made a very clear and definite promise to Nevada Wolf Pack football fans.
“The University of Nevada is the flagship football program of this state,” said Norvell at a press conference at Mackay Stadium on Friday when he was introduced as the Wolf Pack’s new head coach. “It is our charge to also make this the flagship of the Mountain West.”
Norvell, who has been an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, UCLA and Nebraska, replaces Brian Polian, who compiled a 23-27 record as the Wolf Pack head coach the last four seasons. Norvell, the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator at Arizona State this past season, comes to Nevada after 31 seasons as an assistant coach at nine schools and two NFL teams.
“We’re all excited to bring Jay in as our head football coach,” Nevada Athletic Director Doug Knuth said. “I know how excited he is. We told him we’re trying to win as fast as possible and that’s what he wants also. He is exactly what we were looking for.”
Norvell’s contract is for five years with a base salary of $525,000 a year to start, said Nevada Media Services Director Chad Hartley. It is the same base salary, Hartley said, that Polian was due for what would have been the last year of his five-year contract in 2017.
The 53-year-old Norvell will be the oldest head coach in Wolf Pack history behind only Chris Ault, who was 66 when he retired after the 2012 season. Norvell was one of three finalists for the Wolf Pack’s top job along with Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin and Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Norvell was the last of the three to interview with Knuth this week. Knuth offered him the job during his interview on Wednesday and Norvell accepted it almost on the spot.
Knuth said that he only offered the job to Norvell.
“As we talked to him and got to know him it was obvious that he was the right person for this job,” Knuth said. “As I talked to people all around the country when I began this search, the name I kept hearing was Jay Norvell, over and over. These people were leaders of our industry, leaders of college football, leaders of the NFL. They all remember Jay as a man of great character, a man of unreal integrity, a great teacher and role model and a coach who is loved by his former players.”
One of those college football leaders that Knuth consulted was Ault. Ault, who has been a consultant with the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL and has coached semi-professional football in Italy since he left the Wolf Pack, gave his stamp of approval on Norvell. Ault met Norvell in the spring of 2013 when he went to Oklahoma to teach the Sooners the pistol offense. Norvell was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator at the time and hosted Ault on his three-day visit.
“When Doug mentioned the name Jay Norvell to me one day I just told him, ‘This is someone you need to check out,’” Ault said. “We talked a lot of football when I was there (in 2013). I watched spring practice and saw how organized he was. The thing that I’m most impressed with Jay is that he was not only just an assistant coach at some of the places he’s been. He was a coordinator. He was someone the head coach trusted to manage a group.”
Ault is convinced Norvell can get the Wolf Pack headed in the right direction.
“Jay is the surge this program needs right now,” Ault said.
Norvell said his Wolf Pack offense “will be a spread attack that will be very aggressive. We will be very up tempo and we will be very creative.”
Norvell added that his Wolf Pack teams will utilize concepts of the pistol offense but that his offense will clearly be a spread offense, heavy on the passing game.
“On defense we’re going to pressure and take the air out of the quarterback and play tight coverage,” Norvell said. “When our fans come to watch us play I want them to not be sure about what they are going to see. In a positive way.”
Norvell talked to the Wolf Pack players Friday morning.
“I’m excited,” said Wolf Pack running back James Butler, who rushed for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns this season as a junior. “I can tell how excited he is, too. We all just told him, ‘We want to win right now.’ I can’t wait to get started.”
Butler is one of 18 juniors off last year’s roster who will play their senior season for Norvell in 2017.
Knuth said that it was important that the new Pack coach be hired this week.
“It was important for recruiting (National Letter of Intent signing day is Feb. 1) and it was important that the new coach meet our players face to face,” Knuth said. “Next week is finals and they will all be gone after that. I wanted them to meet the new coach instead of just reading about it.”
Norvell said he hopes to quickly put his Wolf Pack coaching staff in place.
“I am very excited to think about the staff that I know I can put together here,” he said. “I have been flooded with interest already from coaches who want to come here and be a part of this.
“I have a lifetime of networking and a lifetime of relationships that I can draw from. The people I hire to come here to coach with me will also have those type of relationships. We will not be starting from scratch.”