Though Florida State coach Mike Norvell’s job does not appear to be in immediate danger, the questions about his long-term future will intensify if his Seminoles lose to Louisville to start 0-4 for the first time since 1974. He’ll earn all the scrutiny he receives.
But another in-state game this weekend should serve as a cautionary tale for fans already clamoring for Norvell’s firing.
FSU does not want to become another Tennessee.
The Volunteers who will play at No. 11 Florida on Saturday have little in common with the Volunteers who used to battle the Gators for SEC supremacy and topped FSU in the Fiesta Bowl to win the 1998 national title. Tennessee hasn’t finished in the top 20 since 2007 and got beat at home this season to a Pitt team that just lost to Western Michigan.
Though several factors have contributed to the Vols’ fall, one of the easiest to pinpoint is the coaching turnover. Tennessee is on its fifth full-time head coach since Hall of Famer Phillip Fulmer left after the 2008 season: Lane Kiffin (2009), Derek Dooley (2010-12), Butch Jones (2013-17), Jeremy Pruitt (2018-20) and Josh Heupel (hired in January). Only Kiffin left willingly (to take over USC).
Each individual firing was justified. Dooley never had a winning season. Jones was a punchline — remember his “championship of life” comments? — who couldn’t turn top-10 recruiting classes into 10-win seasons. Pruitt acted like a first-time head coach and led the Vols into an NCAA investigation.
But collectively, the instability has caused the program to spiral. To see why, look at recruiting.
Because new coaches have so little time to evaluate and recruit before the December signing period, transition classes typically suffer. Another firing makes it worse. Players signed by one coach for his system might not be a match for the next coach and his system.
Eight of the 22 signees from Tennessee’s 2018 transition class (Jones to Pruitt) have transferred. That includes four of the Vols’ eight blue-chip signees.
FSU is in even worse shape. Only seven of the 21 players from Willie Taggart’s first class remain. Seven of the top nine signees have transferred.
Compare those figures to another 2018 transition class: Florida. Dan Mullen’s first class has had a lower attrition rate (six dismissals/transfers out of 20 signees) while producing starting quarterback Emory Jones, starting left tackle Richard Gouraige, leading receiver Jacob Copeland and touchdown leader Dameon Pierce.
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As UF enjoys stability, Tennessee is stuck in a disastrous cycle. Coaching turnover leads to roster turnover, which leads to more losses, which leads to more coaching turnover. A Vols program that won the fifth most games in the 1990s has eight losing seasons in 13 years.
That’s the risk the Seminoles face if — if — they consider a coaching change. Fire Norvell, and the next coach’s job becomes that much tougher.
Another transition class and inevitable attrition will weaken the roster. A weakened roster takes time to repair. Time the last two coaches didn’t get. Those are the types of circumstances that lead major programs to hire someone like Pruitt or Heupel (whom UCF fans weren’t sorry to lose).
None of this is meant to give Norvell a pass on his failures. The only thing worse than FSU losing by 21 at Wake Forest is FSU losing at home to Jacksonville State a week earlier.
Even if you give him a 2020 mulligan, this year’s results have been inexcusable and unacceptable. Norvell has lost the benefit of the doubt. He must earn the patience he’ll need to get the Seminoles back to respectability.
If the losses keep piling up without tangible on-field progress, the calls for Norvell’s firing will, swell. And they should.
But fans ready to help Norvell pack his bags should remember that quick dismissals carry their own risk. Too many coaching changes too quickly can force a once-great program into a death spiral or seven-loss seasons.
Just ask Tennessee.
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