It was almost exactly one year ago, when Arizona State football was poised to post back-to-back 10-win seasons, that we published an article with the headline: “How much longer can ASU football keep Mike Norvell?”
Now we have an answer to that question.
The University of Memphis released a statement yesterday announcing the hire of the Sun Devils’ offensive coordinator as that school’s 24th head football coach.
So for the first time in nine years, ASU head coach Todd Graham will begin a new football season next fall without his long-time assistant at his side. The 34-year-old Norvell has been with his head coach through the last three stops on Graham’s career path, including the last four years at ASU and brief stops at Tulsa and Pitt before that.
Graham was one of the first to see the potential in the young man, hiring him as a graduate assistant for his Tulsa staff. The two have developed a genuine friendship during almost a decade together.
And that’s part of what makes this move something of a surprise. Not that it wasn’t expected since it’s hard to hold on to good offensive coordinators. And Norvell is generally regarded as one of the best.
In 2008, Norvell’s offense averaged 569.9 yards a game to lead the nation in that category. In his first two years at ASU his high-octane, quick-scoring offense ran up more than 12,000 total yards and 1,032 total points, which is more than any Sun Devil team in the last 40 years has been able to do in a two-year span.
The 2013 team scored at least 50 points in six different games to set a new school record. Last year, the Sun Devil offense averaged 37 points a game to rank 16th in the nation. And this year, despite a disappointing 6-6 finish to the regular season, the offense averaged 474 yards and 38.1 points per game for second place in the Pac-12. In his four years at ASU, his teams have scored 1,981 points.
Graham had elevated his young assistant to deputy head coach right after the 2013 season ended and his $900,000 salary is the third-highest in the country and the most paid to any offensive coordinator in the Pac-12.
He was also one of the youngest offensive coordinators in the country, and now he has become the youngest head coach among FBS schools.
“I am so proud of Mike and the career he has forged for himself,” said Graham in a prepared statement. “Together, we won 34 games and will have appeared in four straight bowl games. Our university, our program, and our student-athletes all have benefited from Mike’s expertise, mentorship, and coaching ability.”
This was the second major hit to Graham’s staff this season. His son, Bo, who was the running backs coach and had been with the program the previous three years, left unexpectedly. His resignation came suddenly and without explanation, just two weeks before the season opener.
Now his other best friend is moving on.
Norvell had been courted by other schools in need of a head coach, most recently the possibility of a return to Tulsa last year. Graham dodged the bullet on that one when Norvell removed his name from consideration.
When Norvell and his wife, Maria, bought a new home earlier this year, Sun Devil fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, thinking they had a sign the offensive guru might be putting down roots and staying around for awhile.
Looks like that has turned out to be a false sense of security.