Two years and two days ago, Florida State hired Willie Taggart to replace Jimbo Fisher.
The decision felt rushed and many, including myself, were underwhelmed. Taggart had coached at three previous programs and despite coaching his way to four bowl games, he actually only coached in one of those bowl games. Why? With the exception of the 2015 Miami Beach bowl, Taggart had accepted a new job prior to the other appearances. He approached every job with a stepping stone mindset and his lack of commitment showed on the field.
Mike Norvell may not be coaching in Memphis’ likely Cotton Bowl appearance, but only one thing was on his mind after his team won the AAC Championship; celebrating with his team. During the post-game interview, he was asked about the looming FSU press conference. He immediately shifted the focus back to his team and their remarkable season. It’s clear his priorities are right.
While his resume is impressive, his win/loss record isn’t the only reason he’s right for Florida State. Memphis has transformed from a recently successful program with little momentum, to the most electric program in their conference. They didn’t just win games, they won the right games. Biggest rival, Ole Miss: win. Conference championship: win. On November 2nd, College Gameday took notice and paid a visit to Memphis, TN, for the match-up between SMU and Memphis. The game drew 59,506 in attendance, an AAC record, and ended with a 54-48 decision, yet another win for the Tigers.
While 2019 was a rough season for Seminole fans, their issues aren’t as significant as say what Manny Diaz is up against in Miami. Florida State returns a number of quality starters, many of which are legitimate NFL prospects; this roster has the talent to compete right away. What they have to improve on though is discipline. Under Willie Taggart, the Seminoles were one of the most penalized teams in the country and ranked last in penalties per game. Additionally, they ranked last in turnover margin and 122nd in time of possession. These issues plagued their 2019 campaign, and will be the main focus heading into the 2020 season.
What sets Norvell apart from other candidates is that he didn’t truly build Memphis from the ground up. Norvell’s predecessor, Justin Fuente, built Memphis from 2-10 in 2011 to back-to-back 9 win seasons in 2014 and 2015. Fuente built the program, but under Norvell, Memphis took the next step. Fuente gave them wins, Norvell gave them the national spotlight and a conference championship.
“I want to be the coach that gets us back.”
The Mike Norvell era has officially begun at Florida State University.
— NoleGameday (@TheNoleGameday) January 1, 2020
Florida State doesn’t need Norvell to build a program, it’s already built. FSU needs someone to take what’s already in place and win at the highest stage. No one in Tallahassee cares about continuous improvement, that should be a given. The pieces are set for Norvell to succeed immediately but even a 9 or 10 win season in year one won’t be enough to impress the base. Quite frankly, fans want Clemson. Fans want Florida. They want wins over the top competition and they want it all the time. This is one of the best programs in the country and as such, these are the expectations.
The 2020 season starts off with a neutral site game against West Virginia, and two weeks later, Norvell’s new team will travel to Boise, ID to play the Broncos. That sounds like a tough way to start an era, but for Norvell, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to prove he’s the difference between a lethargic program and an electric program. If he does in Tallahassee what he did in Memphis, the ACC’s premier powerhouse will be back.