Saturday was supposed to be a day of a celebration for the Memphis faithful. After back to back years of competing in the American Athletic Championship and coming up short, the Tigers finally got over the hump.
They defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats for the second straight week, this time defeating them 29-24 to win their first ever AAC Championship at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
However, though it was a joyous moment, you could hear the whispers all around the stadium that something wicked this way comes.
What is this wicked?
The impending departure of highly touted head coach, Mike Norvell will be taking his talents to Florida State with an official announcement coming tomorrow afternoon.
This wasn’t the first time that rumors surrounded the 38-year old leaving Memphis for a Power Five conference, with a lot of chatter being made about him potentially returning to Arkansas to coach the Razorbacks last season.
Instead, he stayed in Memphis for another and produced the best season of his career, coaching his team to a 12-1 record and a conference title.
That’s why even more high-profile teams such as Florida State wanted to make him their next head coach.
The move happened after the Seminoles fired Willie Taggart from the same position after he went 9-12 in his first 21 games with the team notorious for being a top team in the nation.
Knowing that questions were coming even though he’d just helped to lead Memphis to a championship, Norvell acknowledged the move with grace and said that Saturday was for the team.
"Tonight’s about us,” Norvell said. “It’s about this team. It’s about everything that we’ve worked to accomplish. I have an incredible group that I have to work with and these guys have an incredible future in front of them.”
During his Memphis tenure, he’s gone 38-15, including winning a Memphis record 12 games in the 2019 season. Also, in three of the last four seasons, the Tigers have won the AAC West and competed in three Championship games.
Brady White talked about the departure of the coach who recruited him back at Arizona State and said that he’ll always play a significant role in his life.
“He’s just done so much for the city,” White said. “I’ve known him since 2012, so, he means a whole lot to me. Being a high school kid being recruited by a man who believes in you even when you’re going through adversity early in your career, it’s a blessing. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to play for this Coach.”
It’s been clear when watching the team that Norvell cares deeply for his players ,and they care for him too, which is one of the best things that he’ll bring to Seminoles who are trying to find their way.
But where does that leave Memphis?
Luckily for them, they’ve been down this road before when Justin Fuente left after the 2015 season, and they found the perfect replacement in Norvell.
Fuente left for Virginia Tech, another ACC team, after he’d had a 9-3 record in his final season with the Tigers after helping them leave the bottom of the college football barrel and turning them into one of the most exciting teams to watch.
But it’s not often that lightning strikes twice which makes the Norvell departure even more intimidating for this rising Tigers’ team.
No matter who the Tigers bring in, they’re going to have very big shoes to fill now that the Tigers have been mainstays as one of the top 30 teams in the nation.
Though it may be the best move for Norvell’s career, it’s led to Florida State fans having a lot of speculation about what he’d bring to the team.
One tweet that was posted by Blake Pellom, a booster at Florida State, who said this of Norvell’s following.
“@SeminoleBooster If we hire Mike Norvell not only will I pull all my money from the program I will refuse to attend another game in his coaching career at FSU. I will not let us stoop to this level. We are a storied program not Memphis....”
Florida State can say what they want about what Norvell will be, but for Memphis he was a winner, and that’s how he’ll always be remembered.
With an invitation to the Cotton Bowl awaiting him and the Tigers, let’s hope that he can get the biggest win in program history.