For what he believes was the first time in his professional career, Florida State coach Mike Norvell missed a practice over the weekend.
He was, however, involved in his Seminoles' early preparation for Saturday night’s game at No. 12 Miami. The same technology that has transformed almost every workplace during the COVID-19 era is helping FSU’s first-year coach continue to lead his program, even as he self-isolates after a confirmed positive coronavirus test late last week.
“Coach’s voice is going to be there,” said deputy head coach Chris Thomsen, who will lead the 'Noles in Norvell’s absence Saturday. “He’s figured out a way to get his voice at practice, trust me.”
For that, credit Austin Phillips, FSU’s director of coaching video. Phillips helped set up a system where Norvell can monitor practice from afar in real time.
Video from practice goes live to Norvell’s computer. From there, he can toggle between multiple camera angles on both practice fields — linebackers one moment, receivers the next. Speakers allow Norvell to talk directly with the assistants who are running the drills so FSU can correct mistakes immediately.
“In a lot of ways it was like having him out there,” Thomsen said.
The set-up allows FSU to continue functioning with a warped sense of normalcy. Thomsen isn’t filling Norvell’s role during practice. Instead, he continues to coach the tight ends, his usual position group.
Norvell can continue to run meetings, just as he always does, and watching practice virtually will allow him to keep developing the game plan his assistants will implement without him in Saturday’s College GameDay matchup.
“It’s not ideal,” Norvell said. “... As we were going through the whole quarantine, we talked about sometimes the greatest challenges bring along some of the best blessings. The blessings of understanding and developing comfort and how it can operate virtually and the things that we can get accomplished definitely have prepared me for this moment and what we’re having to go through.”
That doesn’t mean the process has been easy. Although Norvell said he still feels fine and remains unsure of how he became exposed to the virus, he must isolate until Monday at the earliest.
He can’t see or hug his wife or daughter, who have both tested negative. His first taste of a big-time FSU rivalry game will come on TV. He couldn’t even attend Saturday’s walk-through.
“That was emotional for me,” Norvell said. “It was challenging for me. I get emotional thinking about not being out there tomorrow (at practice), because everything that I do is to help impact these guys and to help build them up and prepare them. Even though this is not the course of action that I wanted to ever occur, I still have an opportunity to (make an) impact.”
For the next few days, that will come through Zoom sessions, a computer monitor and speakers.
On Saturday, Norvell can remain in touch with his team until the Seminoles leave their hotel for the stadium. That’s when Thomsen will assume head coaching duties and analyst Tony Tokarz will take over coaching the tight ends.
“Like I told our football team, it’s an opportunity for all of us to show the response to adversity that comes up,” Norvell said. “It’s what we talk about all the time within our program. Now I get a chance to be the example when something didn’t necessarily have a positive turn in regards to my situation and being able to do my job. I can definitely control my response.”
Even if the controlling is coming through computer clicks.
Florida State (0-1, 0-1 ACC) at No. 12 Miami (2-0, 1-0)
7:30 pm. Saturday, Hard Rock Stadium
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