Mike Norvell has been the in-demand G5 coach of 2019 and, as such, has been linked to every open P5 job out there, as well as being clamored for by every P5 fan base. There’s a lot to like about Mike but there is some hesitancy on my part. Let’s do a deeper dive on the career of Mr. Norvell to learn a little more about the guy that was mentioned as a potential replacement by every Mizzou-beat outlet the second Barry Odom was canned.
Novell was hired at a very young age by Todd Graham to coach his wide receivers at Tulsa and steadily acquired more responsibility, eventually, moving up the chain to be the main guy for Graham’s offense in 2011. Anytime I scout a perspective new hire coach, I like to find out 1) what side of the ball he specializes in (if any) and, 2) how well his specialty did with him in charge as coordinator and as a head coach.
As you can see, the worst offense Norvell has been in charge of was the one year the Graham-crew spent in Pittsburgh, ranking 74th. As quickly as they moved in they all moved out to Tempe the very next year so I’m not going to hold that one against him. Outside of Pitt, the worst offense was the 59th ranked unit of Tulsa with him as a wide receivers coach. So everywhere he’s been has had competent, sometimes elite, offensive performances. For a Missouri team that has (had?) a strong defense and an....ahem....inconsistent offense, I would feel confident (on only his history) that Norvell could eventually get this offense humming.
The next thing I like to look at is the recruiting rankings of the teams the coach has been a part of. By checking the 247 composite rankings of each team the coach has been on staff for you can get the idea if he’s used to working with a team that can simply out-athlete his opponents or if he’s part of a staff that identifies diamonds-in-the-rough — 2- and 3-star guys — and develops them to 3- and 4-star talents. And, again, this is good news for Norvell’s fit with Missouri: he’s only had two Top 25 classes and typically is operating with an average class ranked 56th. Now, even with Missouri being at the bottom of the SEC pile in regards to recruiting acumen, Missouri can still rely on classes ranking somewhere between 30th and 45th; Norvell’s recruiting classes trend towards the middle of the pack regardless of conference, so he would either have to pump up Missouri’s effort or get used to facing a truck load of 5-stars with a roster chock full of 3s and a handful of 4s. Coaching at Memphis for the past 4 years means he’s familiar with the southeast recruiting turf (he targets the Mississippi/Tennessee/Louisiana circuit super hard with Memphis), and hopefully, he can expand into Texas to maintain the excellent pipeline previous Missouri classes have utilized.
Once I get an idea of the kind of kids the coach can haul in, I want to take a look at the quality of teams the coach has been a part of. Was he a position coach/coordinator on a team that was just absolutely superior to the rest of the country? Did he take a team of lower ranked recruits and make them excellent? Or did higher ranked recruits not develop and consistently underperform compared to their recruiting rankings?
As head man at Memphis, Norvell took over a program that went from 77th-55th-47th in SP+ in consecutive years and kept the momentum going by finishing at 49th-42nd-36th and, as of this week, 13th. Now, it is much easier to walk into an established culture and keep it going rather than having to create a culture from scratch while also trying to win game, but credit to Norvell for improving the rig he inherited.
Once a coach’s expertise, recruiting, and quality of product has been established, we finally get to the good stuff and see just how the record pans out against the schedules they play as a head coach.
With Mike Norvell, keep in mind that his four years as a head coach has been in the American Athletic: an excellent G5 league, mind you, but a G5 league nonetheless. That means that he doesn’t go up against a ton of P5 opponents, top tier SP+ teams, or ranked teams. But how you perform still matters, so it’s important to break it down so you know if you’re hiring a Chip Kelly (lots of wins over quality opponents) or a Barry Odom (a record built on the lies of only beating terrible teams).
The overall record of 37-15 is clearly excellent, as is the conference record of 24-8. He’s cleaned up in his division (four losses in four years) and, while he has double the losses away from home, most teams perform worse outside of their home turf.
But let’s get to the record that we, as Missouri fans, are probably most concerned with after our experience of the past four years: record against ranked teams and, most importantly, teams with winning records. Understanding that a) the AAC doesn’t have a plethora of ranked teams, and b) teams generally do worse against ranked teams/teams with winning records, Norvell (as of this week) has accumulated a 5-5 record against ranked teams and 11-12 record against teams with winning records. That’s...not super encouraging. A coach that boosts his record by pounding on worse teams is, granted, good from a “taking care of business” standpoint, but in the SEC you are going to play a lot of ranked teams and a lot of teams with winning records. Not being used to seeing that every week can take some getting used to, especially if you’re operating at a talent deficit like Missouri is. Similarly, Norvell’s 0-7 record against the SP+ Top 25, when Memphis has been at least a Top 50 SP+ team in every year he’s been in charge, is disconcerting. The SP+ record further drives the narrative of beating bad teams and losing to good teams: 3-4 against the SP+ 26-50 teams, 3-2 against SP+ 51-75, and then an overwhelming 16-2 against teams ranked 76th or worse. Again, you can only play the teams that are scheduled for you, but I’d prefer to see a better record against quality teams.
I think Norvell would be a solid hire. He’s proven himself at several levels and responsibilities, found success at every stop, has strong recruiting chops and is a known quantity in Missouri’s turf, has gotten his teams to play at a high level, and, most importantly, has been a head coach for four years. I would prefer to have seen him take over a trainwreck and make it better, but you can’t have everything (yet). His buyout is manageable, but with Arkansas, Ole Miss, Florida State, Boston College, etc. also looking for new head guys, Missouri might find itself in a bidding war with a kneecapped spending ceiling. If Norvell does end up succeeding Odom, I would foresee a long term build that would start bearing fruit at the end of the second full year and, despite the fickleness that can be demonstrated, a satisfaction from the Missouri fan base.