Career Record: 16-6 (as of November 17th, 2017)
Coaching stops: Central Arkansas (GA), Tulsa (WR), Tulsa (Passing Game Coordinator), Pitt (Co-OC, WR), Arizona State (OC, QB), Memphis (HC)
If Tennessee can’t land that big fish this time around, you’re going to hear quite a bit about Mike Norvell. The current Memphis head coach is already being connected to the Vols’ job by several outlets. It’s a fairly easy connection to make with Norvell sitting at 8-1 with the 21st ranked Memphis Tigers.
Let’s figure out just who Mike Norvell is.
Norvell played wide receiver for Central Arkansas through the 2005 season. He was able to land a graduate assistant position with the team in 2006. From there he moved on to Tulsa, where he coached wide receivers initially. He moved up the ranks there, becoming the passing game coordinator in 2009 under Todd Graham.
In 2010, Tulsa was an offensive juggernaut under Graham and offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Norvell again served as the passing game coordinator. Quarterback G.J. Kinne threw for over 3,600 yards and 31 touchdowns as Tulsa ended up going 10-3.
In 2011, Norvell followed Graham to Pittsburgh, serving as co-offensive coordinator. The two would bolt together the following year to Arizona State. This would be Norvell’s first time as the lone offensive coordinator. He also served as the quarterbacks coach.
The offensive firepower continued at Arizona State. Quarterback Taylor Kelly put up huge numbers in 2012 and 2013. Mike Bercovici followed right behind. His rushing attacks were potent, too. The Sun Devils had a 1,000 yard rusher in both 2014 and 2015. They fell just a few yards short in 2013. It was hardly just a pure passing attack during Norvell’s time there. Actually, things were pretty balanced.
He finally got his chance to be the man when Memphis came calling in 2015. Norvell was faced with replacing Paxton Lynch — a guy that Justin Fuente had turned into a top NFL prospect.
Norvell got former Vol Riley Ferguson as one of his first recruits at Memphis. Ferguson has put up massive numbers ever since. Riley had 3,600+ yards and 32 touchdowns in year one and is on pace to do about the same thing this year.
Basically, every quarterback Norvell has touched to this point has put up big time production. That’s pretty easily the best attribute Norvell has right now. He’s an offensive mind that will be able to score points. There’s certainly appeal to that, considering what Tennessee has been through this year.
Questions and Concerns
The problem of course will lie in the defense. It’s an area where Memphis is struggling right now. They rank 95th in the NCAA, allowing over 31 points per game. If Norvell lands in Knoxville, a strong defensive coordinator would be the first thing on Tennessee fans’ wish list.
He’s put together a couple of middle-of-the-road classes at Memphis, but that’s to be expected. He was regarded as Arizona State’s top recruiter during his time there. He was a part of putting together classes that ranked 39th, 23rd and 19th nationally, according to 247 Sports. That’s pretty solid for Arizona State, but we still don’t know how high of a level he could reach at Tennessee. This is a risk with any coaching prospect that hasn’t proven himself at a power five school.
My primary concern five years ago when I dug into Butch Jones was the overwhelming fact that he was riding the coattails of Brian Kelly. You can only play with the cards that you are dealt, but following a great coach is one of the things that scare me off of certain candidates. Norvell is one of them. Who knows if Norvell would be in the position he’s in today without the groundwork put down from Fuente.