Scott Frost has drawn the lion’s share of the attention in the American, but he isn’t the only young head coach tearing it up in his second year in the big chair.
Mike Norvell, still just 36, has racked up a 16-6 mark in two seasons as the head coach at Memphis. The Tigers went 8-5 with an appearance in the Boca Raton Bowl in 2016, and this fall stand at 8-1 overall with a No. 19 ranking in the initial College Football Playoff poll. A win over SMU on Saturday would send the Tigers to the American Championship, likely a trip to Orlando for a rematch with Central Florida and a Peach Bowl berth on the line.
A passing game coordinator by trade, Memphis ranks ninth nationally in passing offense (the Tigers never climbed higher than 18th under Justin Fuente). The Tigers average 6.76 yards per play (14th nationally) and 42.3 points per game (sixth).
One SEC school (Ole Miss) already has an opening, and three more (Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas A&M) could join them. If one were to find a rough midpoint between Oxford, Fayetteville and Knoxville, you’d find yourself in Memphis.
It’s safe to say someone will come after Norvell this winter. And his buyout won’t keep any prospective shoppers away. As detailed in the contract obtained by FootballScoop, Norvell or his new employer would owe Memphis $500,000 within three months of taking another job.
As fate would have it, Norvell spoke at the Memphis Touchdown Club on Monday night. Here’s how the Memphis Commercial Appeal reviewed his performance:
The guy was tremendous. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of a Tennessee fan who was at the event and said, when it was over, “I want him.” Memphis fans should be happy that no athletic directors from other schools were in attendance, because they’d have wanted to hire Norvell on the spot. He started by going to every table and shaking hands with each person in attendance. I’ve never seen that before. Then, when Steve Ehrhart introduced Briarcrest running back (and Memphis commit) Tyler Badie as the AutoZone Liberty Bowl high school player of the week, Norvell — who wasn’t allowed to speak with Badie, because it’s a dead period for recruiting — leapt to his feet to cheer the kid, to the immense amusement of the crowd. Said Ehrhart, deadpan: “I’ve never seen that. A standing ovation of one.”
Then Norvell gave a stemwinder of a stump speech. Someone who had seen me at Tennessee coach Butch Jones’s appearance at the Touchdown Club a few weeks ago put it this way: “Isn’t it more fun being at a wedding than a wake?” Norvell got a huge ovation when it was over. More than one person told me he was among the best speakers they’d ever had. Norvell has always had his strengths — incredible energy, genuine personal charm, the ability to connect to players and recruits, a creative tactical mind — but I wouldn’t have necessarily listed public oratory among them. At least, until now.
Norvell was asked specifically about the Ole Miss job. Here’s what he said, via the Commercial Appeal: “Not one day goes by that we do not think about this group, and when I say this group, this community we represent. Being the head coach at the University of Memphis, the greatest thing about it is the people we represent.”
Let the games begin.