On November 29, 2016 came the sad and inevitable news that Justin Fuente was leaving the University of Memphis to take the open head coaching job at Virginia Tech. To fill the void, Memphis hired Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. Norvell had worked under Todd Graham since 2007 at Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State. Graham has said that Norvell is one of the game’s premier offensive minds, even better than that of Gus Malzahn (who worked with Graham at Tulsa from 2007 to 2008). Norvell arrives in Memphis to take over a team that went 9-4 last year and 10-3 the year before that. Memphis’ offense was its strong suit last year and with Norvell now calling the shots look for Memphis’ offense to not only continue to be really good, but possibly to be even better.
Norvell has yet to coach a game in Memphis but he’s already one of the most popular sporting figures in the city. His use of Twitter has been especially well received. He seems to love Memphis and everything about it, especially the food (Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken being a particular favorite of his). He’s been seen at Tiger basketball games and has done a number of interviews with local radio stations. His positivity has been infectious and more people are looking forward to Tiger football than ever before (not a moment too soon with potential Big XII expansion looming). Season ticket sales are up 18% compared to this point last year.
Norvell’s first season as an offensive coordinator was the 2011 season at Pitt. The Panthers scored 309 points over the course of 12 games, good for an average of 26 points per game. However, Graham left to take the Arizona State job before Pitt’s bowl game (a 28-6 loss to SMU in Birmingham) and Norvell went with him. That’s when Norvell’s offense really exploded. The 2012 season saw Arizona State score 499 points: 38 per game. The 2013 season was his best as an OC with Arizona State averaging a whopping 40 points per game. 2014 and 2015 saw slight declines to 37 points per game and 34 points per game respectively. In his four years at Arizona State Norvell’s offenses scored 50 or more points 13 times. Individual game highlights include hanging 55 on #8 Notre Dame in 2014 and putting an astounding 62 points on USC in 2013.
Memphis’ offense the last two years hasn’t been too shabby either with current Denver Bronco’s QB Paxton Lynch running the offense. In 2014 Memphis went 10-3 and averaged 36 points per game, getting to at least 40 points in six games. In 2015 Memphis started 8-0 before faltering down the stretch to finish 9-4. However, the offense improved over the previous season, averaging 40 points per game. Highlights from 2015 included numerous shootout wins (55-23 at Kansas, 44-41 at Bowling Green, 53-46 vs. Cincinnati, 66-42 at Tulsa) and the biggest win in program history: beating #13 Ole Miss 37-24.
Obviously Norvell has the unenviable task of trying to find a replacement for Paxton Lynch, who really made the Tigers’ offense go last year. But his track record of having his offenses put up big numbers, combined with Memphis’ recent history of putting up big numbers, should lead to a number of AAC defensive coordinators losing sleep. With Mike Norvell in charge the Tigers offense will be scary good.