U of M confirms Norvell to leave Memphis, become Florida State head coach

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Tigers football head coach Mike Norvell has accepted an offer to be the next head coach at Florida State University, according to multiple reports.

After rumors swirled all week, AP and ESPN report Norvell has agreed to a deal from Florida State to be the Seminoles' next head coach.

University of Memphis Athletic Director Laird Veatch confirmed the news in a letter Sunday morning.

"In my short time here, it has been clear that Mike has not only led us to heights not seen before, but he has done so while representing us all with class and passion," Veatch said in the letter. "As a proud supporter of the Tigers, I ask that you join me in applauding Coach Norvell and his family for their contributions to this university and community over the past four years and wishing them the very best of luck in Tallahassee. I am confident he will continue to be extremely successful and we will always be able to proudly claim him as a Memphian."

Veatch said the university's search for a new head coach would attract national attention, and the Memphis aimed to rise into an elite program. He said the university would not use a search firm in the process.

"We now turn our attention to securing a coach of the highest integrity and character with the skills and vision to continue our ascension into the college football elite," Veatch said.

Ryan Silverfield, who served as offensive line coach and deputy head coach under Norvell, was named as interim head coach.

Norvell dodged all Florida State-related questions following the Tigers' 29-24 win over Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Championship game Saturday.

“All our focus tonight is about this football team,” said Norvell, who appeared emotional while his Tigers talked earlier beside him. “It’s not about me. It’s not about anything. It’s about this team and winning an American conference championship. I’m grateful for these guys and what they put in today, and we’re excited obviously about what we were able to do tonight.”

Memphis head coach Mike Norvell, left, celebrates with he team after they defeated Cincinnati in an NCAA college football game for the American Athletic Conference championship Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Memphis had lost the American title game the past two years, both on the road to UCF. Now the Tigers (12-1) are expecting to play in the Cotton Bowl as the best team from the Group of Five.

Asked if he would coach the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl berth Memphis expects representing the Group of Five, Norvell said simply, “Obviously, that’s the plan.”

Norvell will leave Memphis having posted the highest winning percentage in Tigers’ history at 71.2 percent going into this latest league title game. He built on the foundation left by Justin Fuente when he left the Tigers for Virginia Tech, and the Tigers went 25-3 at the Liberty Bowl in Norvell’s tenure.

He also led the Tigers to the first 12-win season in school history.

Named Memphis’ head Dec. 4, 2015, Norvell won at least eight games in each of his four years here and reached double digits twice, including this year. Last week’s win over Cincinnati marked the first time Memphis had won 11 games in a regular season.

He will replace Willie Taggart, fired Nov. 3 by Florida State after going 9-12 as head coach. The Seminoles, who won the 2013 national title, finished the season becoming bowl eligible at 6-6 under interim coach Odell Haggins.

Norvell served as deputy head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona State before taking the Memphis post. His high-octane offense with the Sun Devils resulted in 299 yards passing per game in his final season, and an overall offense of 473.8 yards a game.

Memphis quarterback Brady White, center, celebrates after his team defeated Cincinnati in an NCAA college football game for the American Athletic Conference championship Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

He brought that same creative approach to Memphis, where he called the bulk of the team’s plays even as he had a different coordinator each season.

His offense became known for its explosiveness, leading to big plays. This season, the Tigers are 10th in the nation averaging 483.5 yards a game – 196.4 on the ground and 287.1 through the air — before Saturday’s championship game. His teams scored at least 2,147 points in less than four seasons — more than seven individual decades of Memphis football.

That offensive punch has led to several Memphis playmakers moving to the NFL.

Wide receiver Anthony Miller caught 32 touchdown passes in Norvell’s first two seasons before being drafted in the second round in 2018 by the Chicago Bears. Darrell Henderson was a consensus All-American who rushed for 1,909 yards and led the nation in all-purpose yards last year before being drafted by the Rams in the third round in April.

Tony Pollard, who was at Saturday’s title game, returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns for Memphis before being drafted in the fourth round by Dallas in April.

Before being hired by Memphis, Norvell was offensive coordinator at Arizona State for three seasons. He started his coaching career in 2006 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater Central Arkansas. He moved to Tulsa where he worked with receivers in 2007 and 2008 before being promoted to passing game coordinator for 2009 and 2010.

Memphis quarterback Brady White, right, celebrates with placekicker Riley Patterson (36) after they defeated Cincinnati in an NCAA college football game for the American Athletic Conference championship Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Pittsburgh hired him as co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach in 2011, and Arizona State hired him in 2012 as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He was named deputy head coach in 2014.

Norvell’s buyout for terminating his contract early at the University of Memphis is just $500,000, a relatively low sum for high level college coaches.

Norvell is 37-15 in four years as the head coach at Memphis.

After Saturday's victory, Memphis is awaiting bowl placement. The Tigers will likely play in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, which is one of the New Year's Six bowls.

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