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Ready, set, hike ... and love

For new Pack football coach Jay Norvell, love, respect and championship football are not mutually exclusive ideas

New Wolf Pack football coach Jay Norvell, right, had a chance to meet with his players on Friday before he was introduced as the Pack's coach. He's pictured with offensive lineman Austin Corbett, defensive back Asauni Rufus and running back James Butler.


12/9/2016 | By: John Trent |

 It's not often that one of the major narratives of a college football coach's introductory press conference involves the notion of "love."

But then again, Jay Norvell, who was formally announced on Friday at a press conference at Mackay Stadium as the 26th head coach in Wolf Pack football history, could be just what the Pack is looking for: A coach who isn't afraid to share strong feelings, or to make it clear that success in sports often revolves around relationships, mutual respect and love for each other.

"I told the players this morning that our job as coaches is to love our players, and their job is to love each other," said Norvell, whose 31-year career in coaching has included stops at some of the country's most prestigious college football programs, as well as time in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts. "If we do that, there's nothing we can't accomplish."

The hiring of Norvell capped a nearly two-week-long search conducted by Wolf Pack Athletic Director Doug Knuth.

Brian Polian and the Wolf Pack formally parted ways after four seasons on Nov. 27.

Norvell, 53, was an All-Big 10 defensive back during his career at Iowa, playing under the legendary Hawkeye Coach Hayden Fry. Since then, Norvell has become one of the nation's top assistant coaches on the offensive side of the ball, coordinating offenses at UCLA, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas and most recently, Arizona State.

Knuth said that there was universal praise for Norvell's offensive coaching acumen, noting that leading administrators and coaches from throughout the country had said, "There is no one better than Jay in teaching the game of football."

Yet, perhaps even more impressively, it was the positive comments about Norvell's character that resonated.

"The same words were being used," Knuth said. "And the theme and the pattern was really important to us. They described Jay as a man of really great character ... a man with incredible integrity ... a man who's a great teacher and role model and a man who is loved - loved - by his former players. That's important stuff. People told me, 'If you had a son, you'd want your son to grow up to be like Jay Norvell."

Added University President Marc Johnson: "What became apparent during the search and interview process was Jay's career-long commitment to many of the values that define our University and Wolf Pack Athletics. Jay has a reputation for demanding excellence and accountability from his athletes, and also in providing a supportive, positive atmosphere that helps those coached by him achieve their goals, whether it is playing football or in achieving success in academics and in reaching graduation. He is a passionate, personally dynamic and energetic person who knows how to build strong character in athletes.

"And, through more than three decades of earning a well-deserved reputation nationally as a top-quality coach, Jay knows how to build a successful program that stresses excellence - through performance and through personal integrity. These are qualities that our community will rally around as Wolf Pack football begins an exciting new chapter."

Among numerous career highlights, Norvell coached in the 2009 National Championship game while at Oklahoma. He also has six years of experience in the NFL and coached with the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. In all, he's coached in 14 bowl games and five NFL playoff games during his career.

He said his goals for the Wolf Pack are high.

"The University of Nevada is the flagship program of the state," he said. "It is our charge to make it the flagship program of the Mountain West Conference, and that's what we're going to go to work to do."

Norvell said in walking about campus on Friday, he could feel a "tremendous energy," which he hopes to continue to cultivate through players and coaches who are actively involved with the campus and the community.

"I'm anxious to meet our students and our student body and make them feel a part of our great program," he said.

He said the program will be based on three principles: respect; accountability; hustle.

"That's our blueprint for success," said Norvell, who also said the Wolf Pack schematically will run an up-tempo, spread offense with a defense that will pressure the quarterback with tight secondary coverage. "We're going to be an aggressive football team," he said. "We're going to be extremely creative. I want our fans to come to our games not quite sure what they're going to see ... in a positive way."

He said his expectations for the Wolf Pack players will be high. He termed it "championship" expectations.

"We want our students to live a championship life," he said. "That means academics. That means in the community. And that's also on the field. We will have highest standards for those areas of their life."

Norvell also said he expects his players to trust and love each other. He used his own family as an example. Norvell's father, Merritt, is a former athletic director at Michigan State, a former assistant dean of a graduate school and is one of the most respected figures in collegiate athletics. His parents, Norvell said, have always been supportive of his life, and have always been there to provide guidance and counsel.

"If I jumped out of a burning building, I always felt my family would be there to catch me," he said. "And that's what I want from our football team. I want them to feel the same way. I want them to know that they have coaches and teammates that will love them and take care of them."

Norvell praised the program's tradition. He noted that former head coach Chris Ault's teams had won conference championships and had helped revolutionize the modern game with Ault's development of the "Pistol" offense.

Norvell said that while he was at Oklahoma, like many other offensive-minded coaches at the time, he had sought out Ault's personal counsel to learn the intricacies of the Pistol.

Norvell said of Ault, a member of the Collegiate Football Hall of Fame: "I hold him in high regard. I think it's very similar to when I was at Oklahoma and (Oklahoma head coach) Bob Stoops ... (Oklahoma's legendary former coach) Barry Switzer lived two blocks from the stadium and was very much a part of the program. I know how much Bob respected him. I have similar respect for Coach Ault, I really do. He reminded me of my college coach, Coach Fry, who I love dearly ... a true gentleman.

"I respected what he (Ault) had accomplished here. Our charge is to have this program at a championship level on a consistent basis and to honor the time that those guys were here."

While making it clear he would honor - "on a weekly basis" - the past championships of a program that has appeared in bowl games 10 times in the past 12 years, Norvell said he was excited to get to work.

"This is on our watch," he said of the beginning of a new era in Wolf Pack football. "What we do while we are the caretakers of this program, history will look back on. So that's our charge - to get to work on all it takes to make it a championship program."

A 1986 graduate of Iowa, Norvell began his coaching career at his alma mater as a graduate assistant. His coaching career has also included stops at stops at Iowa State, Wisconsin and Northern Iowa. Norvell and his wife Kim have a son, Jaden.  

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