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Four things I learned from Memphis about new FSU coach Mike Norvell

“Coach Norvell’s one of those guys that didn’t forget anything. It’s spooky how he can remember everything.”

To learn more about new Florida State coach Mike Norvell, I spent some time last week around his former program, Memphis, as the Tigers prepared for the Cotton Bowl. It was easy to see the vision Norvell outlined for the Seminoles’ future in the way he constructed and coached the Tigers.

Beyond the big-picture philosophies, here are four other things I learned about Norvell from conversations with his former staff and players:

1. His offensive reputation is better than I thought.

Mike Norvell, left, talks with Memphis quarterback Brady White during the first half of the American Athletic Conference championship against Cincinnati. [MARK HUMPHREY | AP]

Kevin Johns didn’t know Norvell when he joined his staff last offseason as Memphis’ offensive coordinator, but he knew his reputation. After one season, Johns came away extremely impressed.

“He’s probably the best offensive guy I’ve been around,” Johns said.

Related: Want to see a glimpse of FSU football under Mike Norvell? Check out the Tigers he left behind.

Other offensive guys Johns has been around: Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Kevin Wilson, who coordinated prolific offenses at Oklahoma and helped Ohio State make the College Football Playoff.

“Coach Norvell’s one of those guys that didn’t forget anything,” Johns said. “It’s spooky how he can remember everything.”

Norvell’s former players were also extremely complimentary of him. Receiver Damonte Coxie said Norvell never has a problem scheming his playmakers open.

“He’s the kind of guy that will have answers for everything,” backup quarterback Connor Adair said. “Whatever the defense may do, he’s ready for it.”

2. There’s another ingredient to Norvell’s built-for-playmakers system.

Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell (19) reacts after a first-down run during the Cotton Bowl against Penn State in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 28. [ROGER STEINMAN | AP]

To have the offense built for playmakers Norvell touts, you need players who can make big plays and calls that allow those playmakers to get open.

But there’s a secret ingredient to that formula.

“It’s a whole lot of trust to go in that, too…” said Coxie, who totaled more than 2,400 receiving yards over the last two seasons “He’s going to put you in the situation to make the play. But it’s up to you to prepare right and do the little things for him to trust you to put you in there for you to even make that play.”

Related: Why FSU’s Mike Norvell isn’t Willie Taggart 2.0

Translation: Norvell has high standards, and it’s up to each player to prove he can meet them. If that isn’t happening, Coxie said, Norvell isn’t afraid to challenge you by yelling or screaming.

“I feel like some coaches may be scared to trigger that with certain players,” Coxie said. “But with certain players, he knows how to trigger, just to get the best out of you.”

3. His late quarterback coups have precedents.

Memphis Tigers quarterback Connor Adair (8) runs the ball for a touchdown past the USF defense on Nov. 23. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

In less than two full weeks at FSU, Norvell signed more high school quarterback recruits (two) than his predecessor, Willie Taggart, did in two years. It’s not the first time Norvell earned an eleventh-hour commit from a talented passer.

Three-star quarterback Will McBride flipped from Norvell’s Tigers to Tennessee in December 2016, leaving Norvell with less than two months to find another passer. He and assistant Kenny Dillingham (his new FSU offensive coordinator) offered Connor Adair in January, convinced him to visit campus and signed him away from other suitors like Southern Miss and Toledo.

Related: Chubba Purdy, Tate Rodemaker end FSU’s prep quarterback drought

“They can recruit,” Adair said of Norvell and Dillingham. “They know how to do it, for sure.”

4. He’s extremely detail-oriented.

Mike Norvell watches as players warm up before the start of a college football game against SMU on Nov. 2. [MARK HUMPHREY | AP]

Athletic director David Coburn repeatedly said that Norvell’s attention to detail is one of the reasons why FSU hired him. That doesn’t surprise the Tigers.

“He’s intense...” Adair said. “He likes his details perfect.”

Which details?

“Everything,” Adair said. “It’s literally every specific detail you can possibly think of, he’s into it.”

Related: As the early signing period ends, what’s next for Florida, FSU?

Johns noticed that, too, during an interview process that left him “blown away” by Norvell’s professionalism.

“I had been interviewed probably three or four other times by some other head coaches,” Johns said. “His was the most thorough, detailed, taking the time to make sure that I fit with his culture than anyone else I’ve ever talked to.”

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