Though Florida State coach Mike Norvell never put a timeline on how fast he could turn the Seminoles around, he calls the journey the climb. Not exactly a word associated with speed.
He didn’t arrive to the very top with last weekend’s blowout win at Miami, but his program has risen high enough to gaze down on how far it has come. It’s a climb with a lesson for any Gators or Hurricanes fans who are unhappy with the rebuilding processes their first-year head coaches are leading.
“Two years ago when we were here it was a pretty terrible night,” Norvell said, ‘but between then and now it’s given us an opportunity to have a night like (Saturday).”
That pretty terrible night was a 52-10 defeat at Miami. It wasn’t rock bottom for Norvell’s ‘Noles; nothing was lower than losing at home to Jacksonville State. But it was dreadful. And, to add illness to insult, Norvell couldn’t be there because he had tested positive for coronavirus. Norvell called it “one of the hardest nights of my life.”
Which made Saturday night even sweeter: a 45-3 blowout victory over the ‘Canes that somehow didn’t even seem that close. From a 42-point loss to a 42-point win — one that put FSU back into the top 25.
“We’re taking steps,” Norvell said afterward.
Steps. Not leaps. Not bounds. Steps.
From 3-6 in Year 1, to 5-7 in Year 2, to 6-3 entering this week’s trip to Syracuse. They’re not in the championship hunt, as FSU expects to be, but the Seminoles are better now than they were in September, which is better than they were last September. And that’s because of Norvell and his process.
Twelve of FSU’s 22 starters Saturday were Norvell signees, either from high schools or the transfer portal. The offensive line that paved the way for 229 rushing yards? Three starters were Norvell additions. Trey Benson had only six carries last year at Oregon under coach Mario Cristobal. He averaged 8.5 yards on his 15 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns. Safety Jammie Robinson, who made a vicious tackle in the red zone and downed a punt inside the 5, was a Norvell acquisition from South Carolina.
But if you’re trying to really track the Seminoles’ growth, consider Tampa’s Mycah Pittman.
Though he entered Hard Rock Stadium as FSU’s second-leading receiver, he did not have an offensive touch. Some skill players would have checked out in that scenario. Not Pittman. Offensive coordinator Alex Atkins told reporters Monday that Pittman was named FSU’s “punisher of the week” for his blocking on the perimeter. That’s the kind of selfless play that turns programs around. It also validates the roster-building approach Norvell has taken.
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“Yes, we wanted the biggest, tallest, fastest, but they had to be the right fit for Florida State,” Norvell said. “They had to be guys that truly, truly love the process of work, and then with that they cared about people.”
It’s similar to how Cristobal regularly stresses the necessary hard work at Miami, or Billy Napier’s regular refrain that better people make better players. Perhaps there’s something to these cliches.
There’s also something to patience, even in the portal era where turnarounds are quicker than ever. See: Brian Kelly making LSU the SEC West frontrunner in Year 1, or Josh Heupel making Tennessee a playoff contender in Year 2.
With three losses in Year 3, Norvell’s Seminoles aren’t there yet. We don’t know if they ever will be.
But after Saturday — after the two-year growth from one 42-point game to another — you can see that a slow rebuild is still possible in this era.
The climb can still work.
Nov. 19 games
Kickoff and TV information were announced for some Nov. 19 games:
USF at Tulsa (Friday): 9 p.m., ESPN2
Florida at Vanderbilt: Noon, SEC Network
Louisiana Lafayette at Florida State: Noon, regional TV coverage
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