One team’s castoff at the bottom of the Red River may end up being another’s prize catch on the other side.
Jay Norvell and Texas would like to hope so, anyway.
Norvell made the rare swim to the other side of the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry after he was swept under in Bob Stoops’ staff cleansing last offseason. He represents a treasure trove of knowledge about 10th-ranked OU and just may be the best hope for Texas, a 17-point underdog, to avoid a fifth loss in six games.
“We all got our eyes open and ears back listening to what he’s saying,” quarterback Jerrod Heard said. “He knows all the knowledge of what they’re doing and how they’re gonna attack us.”
Norvell’s invading of enemy lines is not unprecedented. Bobby Jack Wright, a defensive assistant and an ace recruiter at Texas under David McWilliams and John Mackovic, sat out the 1998 season after Mackovic was let go before resurfacing at Oklahoma. He retired last offseason, escaping a staff shakeup where Josh Heupel and Norvell, the Sooners’ co-offensive coordinators, were fired.
Heupel, who quarterbacked the Sooners to a national championship under Stoops in 2000, landed at Utah State, where his offense is struggling, checking in at No. 118 out of 128 teams.
Norvell didn’t want to bite when asked this week why he believes Stoops made the switch. Some OU insiders felt Stoops fired the wrong coach or coaches, and that he should have instead gotten rid of his brother Mike, Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator. Offensively, the Sooners ranked No. 24. Defensively, they were 54th.
But Norvell was not without blame. There were criticisms that he had plateaued as a recruiter, and that the players he was bringing in weren’t developing under his watch. Undeterred, Longhorns coach Charlie Strong consulted Stoops on Norvell and then elevated Norvell to play-caller after one game, a dysfunctional loss at Notre Dame, to start the year.
“I think I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be here at Texas,” Norvell said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity that I have. Any of those other questions, you’ll have to ask (Stoops).”
Following impressive offensive showings against Rice and Cal, the shine on Norvell has dimmed the past two weeks, losses to Oklahoma State and TCU. Still, he is positioned to be part of the long-term solution, as only he and tight ends coach Jeff Traylor among Strong’s offensive assistants have contracts that run through next season. Shawn Watson (quarterbacks), Joe Wickline (offensive line) and Tommie Robinson (running backs) may all be discarded, much the way Norvell was at OU.
“Nobody’s riding in on a white horse,” Norvell said. “We gotta fight our way out of this mess. That’s the only way.”
He’ll fight a former ally.
Norvell said that the Red River Showdown is “by far my favorite game,” which is no small praise for someone who coached in a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders and in a national championship game with Oklahoma. He acknowledged “it’ll be a little different” being on the other side of the Cotton Bowl, but he’s looking forward to it.
“It’s one of the reasons that I’m here at Texas,” Norvell said. “I love this game. I wanted to be in this game. I wanted to stay in this game. I feel very fortunate to have an opportunity to coach in it again.”