Mike Norvell has a relatively easy act to follow.
Norvell’s first season at Florida State should be an upgrade from the Willie Taggart era, which was one of college football’s biggest coaching debacles in recent years.
Taggart went 9-12 in 21 games in Tallahassee - he lost eight of those by 17 or more points while displaying coaching ineptitude at every turn - before the Seminoles agreed to pay $18 million to get rid of him.
It was so obvious that Taggart was in over his head that Florida State cut ties midway through his second season, a rarity in college athletics.
They moved on to Norvell, who grew up in football-crazed Texas, developed a knack for drawing up plays and worked his way into a head coaching job at age 34. He posted four consecutive winning seasons at Memphis before taking over in Florida’s state capital.
“He’s a genius in everything he does,” FSU offensive lineman Devontay Love-Taylor said. “He has answers for everything.”
Good thing, too. Before he even coached a game, Norvell was on the brink of a revolt in June after he claimed to have spoken to each of his players individually about George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests against racial injustice. Team captain Marvin Wilson rebutted Norvell’s claim, calling it a lie and saying they got a “generated text” as a group, and threatened to boycott workouts along with teammates.
Norvell ended up smoothing over the discrepancy with Wilson, and the team moved on.
Norvell’s success on the field is where he truly will be measured, and players are giving him rave reviews - no surprise given how clumsy the ’Noles looked during Taggart’s tenure.
“I’m starting to see how this thing’s going to work,” running back Deonte Sheffield said. “Of course, at the beginning it wasn’t all that. But now we’re starting to hit the runs and see what this offense can be. I really like it because he showcases all your talents in the pass game, the run game, everything, special teams.”
Getting FSU back to national prominence is the ultimate goal. Bobby Bowden build the program into a powerhouse, winning at least 10 games for 14 consecutive years, and Jimbo Fisher made the Seminoles relevant again with the school’s third national championships in 2013.
But Fisher left the program in disarray, and Taggart somehow made it worse.
Norvell has a rebuilding project on his hands, one he believes can get turned around quickly given the playmakers on hand and the talent pool nearby.
“We want to showcase the best of what guys can do,” Norvell said.
Norvell has one of the nation’s best receivers, Tamorrion Terry, and a game-changing pass rusher in Wilson. He also has defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, who is returning from a season-ending foot injury, and 6-foot-5, 315-pound defensive tackle Cory Durden.
It’s not the same talent and depth that put the Seminoles in the championship mix just a few years ago, but it’s a solid start for a new staff.
BACK TO BLACKMAN
James Blackman was named the team’s starting quarterback for the second straight season. Blackman is working with his fourth different play-caller in as many years. He was impressive as a true freshman in 2017, Fisher’s final season, and again last year. He’s thrown for 5,079 yards, with 41 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
He needs to play with more consistency and better handle setbacks, Norvell said, adding that Louisville transfer Jordan Travis and four-star recruit Chubba Purdy have helped push Blackman during camp.
FSU’s offensive line has been one of the worst in the country the last three years, allowing a staggering 116 sacks. Getting that cleaned up could be key to finding sustained success in Norvell’s offense.
Norvell took a 25% pay cut in July to his roughly $4 million salary in part of the athletic department’s response to a budget crisis brought on by the pandemic.
Norvell and the Seminoles open the season Sept. 12 at home against Georgia Tech. Taggart’s first game was a 24-3 home loss to Virginia Tech that set the tone for his tumultuous tenure.
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