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Jay Norvell Q&A
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Bob Stoops doesn’t usually have to ask prospective assistants twice to become a part of his Oklahoma coaching staff. A mountain of resumes have accumulated on Stoops’ desk over the years, proving how many people would love to coach in Norman.
But one man — Jay Norvell — actually turned Stoops down six years ago when offered a job. The reason? Because Norvell, a veteran NFL assistant, had an simultaneous offer to become a part of the Oakland Raiders staff.
It seemed like the right move at the time, but when OU receivers coach Kevin Sumlin took the head coaching job at Houston in 2008, Stoops called on his old friend once again. And it didn’t take Norvell wasn’t about to turn down a second opportunity.
Norvell spoke recently with Sooner Spectator about his career in the NFL, his relationship with Bob Stoops and their Iowa connection, as well as his second chance to be a part of the OU coaching staff.
Sooner Spectator: How did you first get involved in the NFL and coaching at that level?
Jay Norvell: I always had an interest in the NFL. I played a little bit, but as a coach, I was around some guys that had coaches and friends in the NFL. I just traveled and I would go visit people. When I wanted to find something out about a play or — I was a special teams coordinator at Wisconsin when I first started and I got in the car and drove over to the Detroit Lions and saw Frank Gansz, who was the best in the NFL in special teams. I just asked him questions and found out things.
I coached at Wisconsin and the Packers were up there and I spent time with (Mike) Holmgren and Steve Mariucci and Sherm Lewis and all those guys. I just had an interest in it and I spent a lot of time with the Bears and friends there, and I just tried to learn and grow as a coach. I did some internships and there happened to be an opening with the Indianapolis Colts and somebody talked to Jim Mora for me and I interviewed and that’s how I ended up going to the Colts. That was always something that was an interest. I always had a desire to coach at that level and I always had a desire to learn from guys that were the best. It just helped me grow as a coach.
SS: There are a lot of differences between coaching in the NFL and college, but what differences stand out to you the most?
Norvell: The difference is the age of the players. The difference is the amount of time you spend on football. A lot of our day is spent on recruiting, even during the season. In the NFL, it’s all ball. It’s the amount of practices you have too. We practiced from the middle of April to the middle of June, three or four days a week in mini camps and then you have all of training camp and a 16 game schedule and four or five preseason games. Just the amount of practices that you have, the amount of film you watch — it’s just accelerated.
SS: So the opportunity to see more and learn more about the game is obvious?
Norvell: You see so much more ball and that’s the biggest difference. When I was with the Colts, I was with guys that coached Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann. The amount of football knowledge that you’re around is huge. You learn a lot from people. When I was with the Raiders, I would be in meetings with Al Davis and he was talking about things 50 years ago and all the great players that he’s had. You learn a lot from being around those kind of people. I loved hearing stories about Kenny Stabler and Fred Biletnikoff and all those guys. Willie Brown invented bump and run coverage with the Oakland Raiders. He was an outside linebacker in college and they moved him out to corner and he couldn’t cover so he’d just wind up on the guy and start beating him up.
Then Freddy Biletnikoff talks about releasing from bump and run because he had to go against Willie in practice. So you’re talking about guys that kind of incorporated a lot of the things that are going on today. That was the exciting thing about coaching pro ball was being around those guys.
SS: When you were coaching at Oakland and in the NFL did you always keep in contact with Chuck Long and Bob Stoops and Mike Stoops?
Norvell: It kind of went in spurts. Sometimes you see guys and you won’t see them for a couple of years — but Chuck and Jonathan Hayes, those guys were all my era at Iowa and in my class. We all came in as freshmen. Bob and Mike and Mark, we all played the same position and we were all coached by the same guy and so we were like brothers in a way, in a football sense. We came through the same training so you have a similar thought process. I just always respected Bob as a player and the way he handled himself and his leadership and his toughness. He was just really smart, like a coach on the field — really tough, and I tried to emulate a lot of the things he did.
SS: Does that sort of carry over to coaching styles?
Norvell: It’s been the same way in coaching. Bob was at Kansas State and I coached in the Big 12 at Iowa State and I just always followed him when he was at Florida and came here and I just always admired his confidence. He’s always been that way, as a player and a coach. He’s extremely confident, extremely sure of himself and that rubs off on people around him. They feel that confidence. I think that’s why he’s had such success at such a young age is because he’s a bright guy, he knows what he wants to do and he does it confidently. I tried to emulate that and the way he treated people. He’s just incredible in how he treats people and he’s always been that way.
SS: It almost seems like you were destined to end up Oklahoma. You were going to be hired here several years ago and then you went to Oakland and then you come back. Did you ever look at it that way?
Norvell: I feel very fortunate. I’ve been really lucky to be around the people I’ve been around in coaching. Sometimes things happen for a reason. I always dreamed about coaching at Oklahoma and when I got the opportunity, I felt very fortunate. There’s not too many times in your coaching career you get the opportunity to coach for Oklahoma and the Oakland Raiders at the same time. Six years ago, the Oakland Raiders were a little different organization than they are (now). They had (John) Gruden and an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl and it was a little different organization. I never thought I’d get to coach here again and that really goes back to Bob.
SS: So that was a tough thing to turn OU down back then for you?
Norvell: It was really tough. It was really tough. You’re talking about guys like Bob and Mike Stoops and Chuck Long and Jonathan Hayes — it doesn’t get much better in football, those kind of people.
SS: So Coach Stoops was very understanding when you had to choose Oakland over coming to be on his staff the first time around?
Norvell: He was phenomenal. I was in a situation where I was coaching in the NFL, I had four years in and I needed five to be totally vested and Bob understood that. I went to Oakland, I got a chance to coach in a Super Bowl and we didn’t win it, but I got that opportunity and got six years in and was totally vested and I had a chance to keep coaching in the NFL. When I went back to Nebraska as a coordinator, I had three opportunities to go to different teams in the league with the Steelers with (Bill) Cowher and I just kind of wanted to go in a different direction. I wanted to be able to get back to kids this age and be able to affect them positively and have an opportunity to be a head coach.
That’s been my goal in college to do that. I had a chance to coach at Nebraska which was a phenomenal situation and I had a chance to go to UCLA and I was just really fortunate that Bob brought me back. I don’t know that anybody else would but Bob. That just kind of goes to his character and the kind of person he is and I’m very, very thankful for that.
— Carey Murdock