TAMPA — Florida State coach Mike Norvell has a deep appreciation for Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. During his introductory news conference Sunday, Norvell gave Malzahn a shout out and thank you for the way Malzahn helped launch his career.
The respect, it turns out, is mutual.
“He’s one of the best coaches in all of college football right now,” Malzahn said Thursday night during an Outback Bowl function at Raymond James Stadium. “The sky’s the limit with him.”
It might not be without an initial assist from Malzahn.
Norvell spent the 2006 season as a graduate assistant at Central Arkansas, where he had just finished a record-breaking career as a receiver. Malzahn, then the offensive coordinator at Tulsa, heard about Norvell through a friend.
The two talked, and Malzahn was impressed enough that he hired Norvell as his graduate assistant/receivers coach.
“He was just one of those guys that was the hardest worker,” Malzahn said. “You just knew he had something special to him. I’m real proud of him.”
Norvell worked under Malzahn for two years at Tulsa and remained there as the passing game coordinator when Malzahn left for Auburn in 2009.
The two remain connected in coaching circles. Kenny Dillingham spent five years under Norvell at Arizona State and Memphis before Malzahn poached him last offseason to become Auburn’s offensive coordinator. One of Norvell’s first moves at FSU? Stealing Dillingham back from Malzahn to become FSU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“Kenny did a super job for us…” Malzahn said. “I was happy for Kenny. Kenny wants to call plays and all that. He’ll have more influence with Mike.”
Dillingham’s exit also created a vacancy on Malzhan’s staff, which he filled with former Arkansas head coach Chad Morris. Malzahn said that he will still call plays himself when his No. 9 Tigers play No. 16 Minnesota on New Year’s Day, but he and Morris are still sorting through things beyond that.