William Wilkerson, Scout.com

Q&A: Arizona State wide receivers coach Jay Norvell

Earlier this year, Arizona State coach Todd Graham hired former Texas play caller and Oklahoma wide receivers coach Jay Norvell to coach the Sun Devils' wide receiver group. We recently spoke with Norvell about coaching the position in Tempe.

Chris Karpman: What's this transition been like for you so far?

Jay Norvell: "Yeah it's been good. Just getting to know the coaches and know the kids, spending time with coach (Todd) Graham, understanding what he expects, what he likes, how he wants you to deal with the kids. It's been great. I've been truly impressed with just the way that the kids are, how respectful they are, how attentive they are, how they work. I have had several meetings with all the players and am very impressed with how they handle themselves. You can tell when you go into certain programs and you have the kids' attention. Coach Graham has got these kids' attention. I think that's a great sign. I feel very blessed to be here and be part of this program. I've been to a lot of places and feel very fortunate I've been to a lot of really good programs. I feel like this is a really good program. I coached in the Pac-12 and always had a lot of respect for Arizona State and then just since coach Graham has been here, the approach to the game, disciplined, how they push the field, their aggressiveness on defense and offense. I really respect playing in the no huddle offense, I was involved with it in the NFL, involved with it at Oklahoma and at Texas, just the style of play and that was very attractive to me. I wanted to be a part of it.

"I had a chance to visit with coach Graham after the season, really liked the things that he was about. Then over the last couple months I got to know (new offensive coordinator) Chip Lindsey and really, Chip made all the difference for me. When you coach long enough you really want to coach with people you enjoy working with and being around. That was a big part of it for me, with (offensive line coach) Chris Thomsen, (tight ends coach) Del Alexander and Chip. All guys I like being around, that I feel good getting up in the morning and spending all day with and that's what made the most of it for me. And then, getting a chance to work with these players in this conference is exciting as well."

Karpman: You must be having some really interesting conversations about offense and what you're trying to be in this next year. I've already spoken with Chip Lindsey, watched some Southern Miss film, I've seen what you guys have done in the past, he's been a very adaptive coach to this point, forging his own scheme. He has Air Raid background, some West Coast concepts, moving to more of an 11 personnel base and getting under Gus Malzahn and picking up some of that. Can you walk me through what that process has been like, speaking with him and trying to figure how how to put your personnel in the best position to be successful? 

Norvell: "I think we have a lot of similar background. I came from an NFL background that actually had the biggest influence on me, and working with Bruce Arians (Cardinals head coach) and Tom Moore (Cardinals assistant head coach) when I was with the (Indianapolis) Colts and we did a lot of no huddle. We did a lot of changing plays at the line of scrimmage, communicating, signaling. So I took those experiences back to college when I left and went to Oklahoma and was with (current Indiana head coach) Kevin Wilson. We went no huddle and kind of gelled those ideas together. So our passing game, there's a lot of West Coast terms, concepts that we've used, and to go fast. A lot of the Air Raid concepts are very similar and from being at Oklahoma, (current Washington State head coach) Mike Leach was there (in 1999) and so Oklahoma carried over a lot of those concepts and terminology. So I was very familiar with that, because Chuck Long (former Oklahoma staffer) was there and then (current Indiana head coach) Kevin Wilson, and Josh Heupel (Missouri offensive coordinator) and I. We carried over a lot of those passing concepts. 

"So Chip and I have a lot in common. And then Chip with his experience under Todd Monken (former Southern Miss head coach and now Tampa Bay offensive coordinator), who was a former NFL guy, he kept a lot of those things. It's more meshing how it's called, how you want to attack different coverages and making it all streamlined so we can communicate. I think that's a great to every coach, that you do have flexibility. There's a lot of ways to skin a cat. But we know this, we want to spread the field, we want to be balanced, we want to be a play action team, and we want our quarterback to be able to attack the perimeter with the football and get the ball to our playmakers. I know that. And he'll also be a runner if it fits our personnel, he'll be a zone read guy, and so we're going to make the defense defend us, and we're going to play fast. I think we're all big on that and coach Graham is as well. I'm sure there will be some new changes and wrinkles from what they've done in the past, but that's a good thing. I think it'll give us our own stamp on it and the kids will be fine. It'll be very similar to what they've done but there will be a few differences with how we attack." 

Karpman: So you guys will continue to communicate the offense they way it was previously or there will be some updates? 

Norvell: "I think there will be some changes and some things that will be similar. Ultimately it will be what's comfortable for Chip and coach Graham and the kids but I think the most important thing is that we are all on the same page and we can communicate and go quickly."

Karpman: When you come into a new job like this, walk me through the assimilation process as far as getting to know your personnel and all the things you want to do to get up to speed ahead of spring football? 

Norvell: "Watch a lot of tape, sit down and really just listen. I think that's the biggest thing you learn, the more you've been around. The best thing I can do is ask a question and shut up and let people talk. I did that with all my players and learned a lot about the players and a lot about this program. Then just getting to know the other players, the linemen, the running backs, and defensive players, everyone around this place. It takes time, it doesn't happen overnight. But the biggest thing is just establishing relationships, so kids understand what you're about. I've always been a pretty simple, straightforward person. I'm going to challenge the kids, I'm going to try to make them better every day. I don't want them graduating and three or four years from now saying, 'coach, why didn't you push me harder?' That's never going to happen. I'm going to make sure that you get every bit of coaching you can get while you're hear, and I'm going to push you. You shouldn't be comfortable. The way we want to play, we want to attack and make sure that the defense is uncomfortable to. It's been successful everywhere we've been and the same principles we'll put into place here."

Karpman: Those initial conversation with some of these players, anything in particular they had to say to you or that you took from the dialogue? 

Norvell: "Not really, I think it's more getting to know each kid. There are guys from all over the country here, Texas, California, Louisiana. It's good to hear them talk about their background, high school, growing up, what setbacks they've had since they've been here. It just gets me up to speed and helps me understand them. I've been around a lot of great coaches and the great ones don't coach everybody the same. Everybody is different and you have to learn your players and get to know your players to really be able to help them. We sat down and coach Graham wanted us to ask them about their goals, long term and short term and intermediate goals over this next year. It's really my job to help guys reach those goals, to serve them. And I have a lot of experiences with kids, I've seen a lot of success and guys do it right, and I've seen mistakes and I can help these guys not make those same mistakes. We want to help them be on the path to doing it right and getting their faster, or as fast as they can. Those are the things that I can really help. Even with Chip, I've been around and seen a lot of people do it a lot of ways and maybe I can just give him a little insight on how to think about something that maybe he hadn't thought about before. I think it's a great mix of coaches. I think we're going to put together something special."

Karpman: So will your labeling of positions be x, y, z, h, f? 

Norvell: We'll have alphabetical terms for them I think. We've done both and Chip has done both. We haven't finalized that [as of late February]. There's a lot of conversations about that and we have a couple weeks before spring practice. We'll come out of that and have a good idea and have it nailed down. 

Karpman: When you evaluate guys, do you look at a receiver and say, 'oh this is what we're looking for in a boundary player' specifically or, 'he can play these two or three spot' or what is your process like? 

Norvell: "We like guys that are versatile and I kind of think of guys as inside guys and outside guys. We want guys that have some stature to them and really great agility and ability to get in and out of cuts, and ball skills and competitive toughness. Those are things that are very important to us. And an ability to get open. I've come to simplify what a receivers' job is, which is very simply to get open, catch the ball and if we don't throw it to you, find some work and go block. We want guys who can get open and run away from people and having quickness and agility and then great ball skills and make plays that way.

"We want guys who can stretch the field and get open. I've had some great slot receivers and coach Lindsey and I have talked a lot about this, I've had some smaller guys who were great slot receivers. Ryan Broyles (at Oklahoma) was one of them, and Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma) is a senior this year and Jalen Sanders (Oklahoma) was a great player against Alabama, so I've had those guys. If we see those types of guys in recruiting and they can be super competitive, great quickness and agility, those are guys we'd like to have as well."

Karpman: I'm guessing you watched some of the film of guys you have coming back this season. Cameron Smith seems to fit the criteria of what you're looking for, Tim White fits. What do you think about those guys from an initial first blush? 

Norvell: "I'm impressed. They are explosive, they are sudden. In space they can make big plays. Those are the types of guys I've been used to having, those are the types of guys I'm used to recruiting. Guys that can take an average play and make it a big play. I think both of those guys are very competitive and we want to continue to build on their strengths and add other guys like that to the mix. And I think we've got a couple other guys too, that as they feel more comfortable and have more confidence, will start to make big plays."

Karpman: For them it's a fresh start in some respects. Have they conveyed that to you? 

Norvell: "No, I told them that. I told them that I don't have any preconceived ideas of what you are, or who you are. I don't want any. I don't even really want anyone telling me about them because I just want to give them an opportunity to have a fresh start and to go out and compete and try to do the things we're asking them to do. It's our job to help these guys be more confident. I want them to feel like we're ready to take on the world when we go play somebody. And young players, usually that's the difference between being good and being average, is confidence."

Karpman: Is it too early for you to say, 'okay, we're going to line up these guys in these positions or spots?'

Norvell: "I don't even care about that right now. We're going to play the three best ultimately, we'll plug them in. That's how I've always done it. We want our guys outside to run routes and attack and be able to make individual cuts. Inside guys have got to be able to see the field and feel space. If they can't do that they're going to have problems. We'll line up the three best guys."

Karpman: Coach Lindsey was telling me that you guys may have some option routes and things like that which hasn't been done as much here previously? 

Norvell: "That's a very individual thing. It's usually a guy who has feel for that. If a guy has a feel for it, you can build off it."

Karpman: So what do you have a sense of urgency about in the spring? 

Norvell: "The biggest thing is just understanding and effort. I kind of have three things I live by: respect, accountability and hustle. If you're respectful to your coaches and teammates and then you're accountable every day to your responsibilities that you need to do, and then you have just got to roll your sleeves up and just hit it and hustle and sprint and run hard and try to make plays and go block people when you get a chance. Those are the things we've got to get established in the spring and that something I've always lived by as a coach. We want to see these kids work, see understanding, see what we talk about in the meeting room be transferred to the field. We want to get that done quickly, we wan to execute soon. Those will be the things we press for."


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