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Florida State Inexplicably Extends Head Football Coach Mike Norvell

Ross Everett
by in NCAAF on
  • Florida State University has given head football coach Mike Norvell a one year extension through 2026.
  • Norvell was on the ‘hot seat’ all season and most expected him to be fired after a second losing season.
  • Norvell is now 8-13 in two seasons as Seminoles head football coach.

With the smoke starting to settle from a tumultuous round of college football coaching moves one of the most surprising is one that *didn’t* happen–for some reason, Mike Norvell remains on the sidelines at Florida State. Norvell not only retains his job but today was given a one year contract extension. The extra year extends him through the end of the 2026 season. Financial terms were not mentioned but Norvell is scheduled to make $5 million USD in 2025, the final year of his original contract.

It’s not really clear why Norvell is still around, particularly after the other major schools in Florida–the University of Florida and Miami–both made coaching changes. Actually, that doesn’t quite tell the story as both Florida and Miami made significant upgrades to the football program and–in Miami’s case at least–the entire athletic department. In Gainesville, they’re pretty happy with Florida AD Scott Stricklin but after Dan Mullen was fired in November they made a big coaching improvement bringing in former Louisiana head coach Billy Napier. Napier was arguably the hottest head coaching candidate in the country during the past few seasons and had turned down a number of offers from SEC programs before accepting Florida’s overtures.

Miami pulled a quick upgrade to the entire athletic program has been called by ‘canes boosters as ‘the best week Miami U has had in a long time’. In November, Miami fired athletic director Blake James though they let football coach Manny Diaz twist in the wind before his summary dismissal on December 5. A few hours after firing Diaz, Miami announced Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal as the new man in charge of the Hurricanes program. They’ve since pulled a massive upgrade at athletic director, luring Dan Radakovich away from Clemson. Radakovich wants to leverage the economic engine of the football program to bring about a revival in all Miami U athletics–essentially the blueprint of what he did at Clemson:

“Football really was the train that allowed us to do everything else within the athletic program. They made an incredible profit, mostly off of the 80,000 people that would come to Memorial Stadium for those game days, as well as our affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference. That allowed us to do a lot of other things with some of our other sports”.

“So, yes, football is the economic engine. That’s not a news flash for anybody in this room. That’s the way it is at almost every Power Five institution. So we need to make sure that happens here. Because when you play a game at Hard Rock Stadium and you have a competitive program and you have a high-level opponent coming in, the revenue that comes forward from that will help generate opportunities for other parts of the athletic program.’’

Florida State’s lack of action has to be viewed in this context–with both of the other major programs in Florida making dramatic moves to upgrade the Seminoles did close to nothing. They did get a new athletic director, hiring Michael Alford last week. The move was made necessary after former FSU AD David Coburn announced his retirement and Alford–the former head of the Seminole Boosters–was considered to be the ‘next AD in waiting’. It almost didn’t work out that way, however, as Florida State inexplicably sought Louisville athletic director Vince Tyra for the job before reversing course and offering the position to Alford. Tyra resigned from his job at Louisville in what are now somewhat bizarre circumstances but didn’t end up going to Florida State. The story now is that Tyra had withdrawn his candidacy at Florida State and decided to stay in Louisville. Almost simultaneously, Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi quit her job to go to Penn State University. It’s not really clear why he chose to resign though he says he had no advance notice of Bendapudi’s departure and that might have influenced him to decide otherwise.

The dalliance with Tyra only served to undercut new AD Coburn who admirably has taken the ‘higher ground’ and pretended that he wasn’t almost left standing at the proverbial alter. You could made the case that Florida State needed to follow Miami’s lead and bring in an ‘outsider’ with a strong track record of success but there’s no reason to think that Coburn isn’t extremely capable. He’s also extremely loyal to the FSU program which makes his treatment before being offered the job something of a head scratcher.

Equally puzzling is the decision to keep Norvell. The one year extension to his contract is a minor issue–basically just a tangible validation that he won’t be fired. Not surprisingly, Norvell is happy to be staying put:

“I am incredibly thankful to the board of trustees, President McCullough, David Coburn and Michael Alford for their support of our climb. Because of the investments they have continued to make in the personnel and infrastructure supporting our program, our current roster will continue to develop alongside the future Seminoles who will be joining us in the coming days. This is an exciting time to be part of the Florida State program, and there are great days ahead.”

Unfortunately, there’s not much to validate Norvell’s optimism. This blurb from the press release announcing the extension is about the rosiest spin you can put on his performance:

Norvell was hired by FSU in December of 2019. He came to FSU after being the head coach at Memphis for the four seasons prior to his hire. He was 38-15 at Memphis.

He is 8-13 over the past two seasons with the Seminoles.

FSU went 3-6 during his first season in 2020. The program navigated a great deal of change during a global pandemic that limited FSU to just three spring practices before football operations shut down for several months. Norvell led the youngest team in the nation as freshmen and sophomores made up 75 percent of FSU’s roster and 34 players made their first appearance for the Seminoles.

This past season, his team went 5-7. The Seminoles got off to an 0-4 start, their worst start in 45 years, which included their first-ever loss to an FCS program (Jacksonville State). The Seminoles then bounced back winning five of their last eight games. The Seminoles were still amongst the youngest teams in college football as their roster continues to go through a full transformation.

Actually, the ‘bounce’ took a bit of time as FSU immediately proceeded to lose to Wake Forest and Louisville to start the season 0-4 which is unprecedented. Following the loss to Wake Forest, the Seminoles were at 0-3–the last time a Florida State team was 0-3 was in 1976 as a new head coach named Bobby Bowden began his tenure. At that point, college football observers were saying that it wouldn’t be surprise for Norvell to be fired immediately. The local media, including the hometown newspaper the Tallahassee Democrat pointed out the financial hit the University would take by firing Norvell before giving him a tepid endorsement:

However, it doesn’t make any sense and cents to fire a second head coach in two years. And judging by Norvell’s post-game press conference Saturday, it was obvious he is embarrassed and discouraged – but he’s still taking responsibility and searching hard for answers. 

The Seminoles did go on to win five of their last eight games though it wasn’t quite as inspiring as the press release blurb made it sound. They beat only one team that would finish a winning record though that was a big one, winning 31-28 over 7-5 Miami on November 13. They also beat 5-7 Syracuse, 6-6 North Carolina, 1-11 UMass and 6-6 Boston College. They finished 6-6 against the spread which is not only important in our ‘line of work’ but a decent measure of how competitive the Seminoles were in games they lost. Only two of the losses produced a pointspread cover–their opening game 41-38 loss to Notre Dame as a +7 underdog and their season ending 24-21 loss to Florida as +4 underdog. They narrowly missed a cover in a 30-20 loss at Clemson as a +9.5 underdog but generally they beat the teams they were supposed to beat but didn’t fare well when stepping up in class.

My take on the decision to retain Norvell has more to do with market conditions than any signs of a resurgence at FSU. The powers that be at Florida State may realize that they’ve missed the boat when it comes to the quality coaching candidates on the market. The transition to a new AD definitely didn’t help the situation and given the financial disincentives to firing Norvell (FSU would be on the hook for 85% of the salary remaining on his original six year, $26.5 million USD contract) they’ve likely made the prudent decision to stand pat. The alternative would very likely be taking a big financial hit and taking the program back to ‘Square One’ for a coach that might or might not be any better than Norvell.

Florida State now has time to proceed in a thoughtful manner. If Norvell starts to see results at Florida State, problem solved. If not, they can always fire him (and likely will) after next season and be in a position to go after the top coaching candidates on the market. That’s definitely an intelligent move, though it isn’t clear if the Seminole faithful will concur.

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