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Our coach of the year case for FSU’s Mike Norvell, USF’s Alex Golesh

Why Mike Norvell and Alex Golesh deserve national coach of the year consideration (and who we put No. 1).
 
The case for Mike Norvell to be coach of the year can be boiled down to one sentence: He won an ACC championship with his third-string quarterback.
The case for Mike Norvell to be coach of the year can be boiled down to one sentence: He won an ACC championship with his third-string quarterback. [ ISAIAH VAZQUEZ | Getty Images North America ]
Published Dec. 7, 2023|Updated Dec. 8, 2023

College football’s award season kicks into high gear Friday night when some of the nation’s top honors are handed out during an ESPN special.

Contenders for The Home Depot Coach of the Year haven’t been announced, but the short list should include Florida State’s Mike Norvell and USF’s Alex Golesh.

Though I’m not involved with that award, I had a vote for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award and the Associated Press’ coach of the year honor. Norvell got my No. 1 spot in both, and I strongly considered Golesh.

Their 2023 performances were among the best in the nation for different reasons. Norvell lived up to championship expectations, and Golesh led one of the biggest turnarounds in the country.

The case for Norvell can be boiled down into one sentence: He won an ACC championship with his third-string quarterback.

There’s more to it, of course. The jump from good to great is hard. Dan Mullen’s Gators thought it was easier to go from four wins to 10 than from 10 to 11. Norvell went from 10 to 13.

Mike Norvell's Seminoles went undefeated by winning different ways.
Mike Norvell's Seminoles went undefeated by winning different ways. [ MICHAEL CHANG | South Florida Sun-Sentinel ]

One of the signs of great coaching is the ability to win different ways. FSU beat LSU with passing (359 yards, four touchdowns against LSU), beat Virginia Tech with rushing (282 yards) and beat Louisville with defense (188 yards allowed).

When star quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending leg injury, Norvell pivoted to backup Tate Rodemaker — and beat rival Florida by two scores in Gainesville. When Rodemaker was unavailable because of a concussion, Norvell inserted a true freshman with little experience (Brock Glenn) who missed much of the season with a hand injury — and then used a new wrinkle in the run game with more wildcat quarterbacks to beat Louisville by two scores in Charlotte, N.C.

Norvell credited those wins to being a real team that isn’t reliant on any one thing. Numbers bear that out; FSU, Michigan and Georgia were the only teams with their defense, offense and special teams all ranked in the top 10 by ESPN’s SP+ efficiency metrics.

“No matter how you’ve got to do it, no matter what it needs to look like, we find ways to win games,” Norvell said.

That reflects highly of Norvell.

So, too, does another sign of great coaching: the ability to adapt over a game. FSU outscored opponents by 37 points in the first quarter, 54 in the second, 79 in the third and 97 in the fourth. Penn State was the only other team to rank in the top five nationally in second-half scoring offense and defense.

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FSU’s defense held both the Gators and Cardinals to negative fourth-quarter yards. No team has done that in back-to-back weeks in the last 20 years, according to ESPN.

The job of a coach is to find a way to win the game. Norvell did it every Saturday with more significant late-season roster issues than any team in the country while excelling in the metrics that differentiate coaches. He earned my vote.

USF football coach Alex Golesh led one of the nation's biggest turnarounds this season.
USF football coach Alex Golesh led one of the nation's biggest turnarounds this season. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Golesh has a strong case, too, for different reasons. The Bulls won four games in the three years under his predecessor, Jeff Scott. Golesh won six in Year 1.

USF’s five-game win improvement from 2022 was tied for the second-most nationally behind only Northwestern. The Bulls’ lone Football Bowl Subdivision victory under Scott was a win over Temple in 2021. Golesh won five such games.

Golesh also snapped the program’s 19-game road losing streak with wins at Navy and UConn and held national semifinalist Alabama to a season-low 4.77 yards per play in a 17-3 loss that was closer than the final score indicated.

Those points collectively add up to one of the country’s best turnarounds — and coaching jobs.

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