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Why FSU football keeping Mike Norvell was vital for Seminoles’ future

Florida State earned one of its biggest victories in years Friday when coach Mike Norvell ended speculation he would replace Nick Saban at Alabama.

“It has been an incredible journey these last four years, and I have fallen in love with this program, the university and the people who I get to represent,” Norvell said in a statement. “I am so excited to continue our climb to push Florida State back to the top of college football.”

Continuing that climb will be costly through what the Seminoles called an “enhanced contract.” FSU did not announce the terms, but the enhancement is believed to be a new eight-year deal worth more than $10 million annually, as Yahoo! Sports reported. Norvell’s $7.3 million salary ranked 15th nationally last season, according to USA Today’s database; only five coaches had eight-figure salaries in 2023.

But this was a situation FSU could not afford to lose. Not with this much at stake.

Norvell has proven himself to be an astute coach and deserving of the national honors he received this season. He took over a program that was in disarray on and off the field and returned it to glory. After a slow, rocky start, Norvell is 23-4 over the last two seasons with the program’s first ACC championship since 2014. There’s a reason his name was one of the first that surfaced after Saban retired Wednesday. Finding someone to replicate his success would have been an enormous challenge for the Seminoles — especially in this cycle.

Oregon’s Dan Lanning and Texas’ Steve Sarkisian would have been logical fits and great hires for the Crimson Tide. Both released hype videos on social media announcing their decisions to stay. Late Friday afternoon, Washington coach Kalen DeBoer agreed to a deal with the Tide. And that may still be a riskier hire than what you’d expect at one of the most desirable, tradition-rich, resource-laden programs in the country.

What, then, would the market have looked like for FSU — a great job in a weaker conference?

The weaker conference part is relevant as FSU continues to litigate a potential exit strategy from the ACC. Suppose Florida State eventually finds and pursues a manageable way to become a de facto free agent in the next round of conference realignment. The Seminoles would need to be as powerful as possible to become attractive to the Big Ten, SEC or (ideally) both.

Norvell increases that possibility. FSU can focus on rebuilding its roster instead of restarting the top-to-bottom overhaul that accompanies a coaching change. The odds of more 10-win seasons and top-11 finishes are greater with Norvell than without him. And each one of them strengthens FSU’s reputation at a time when brand power has never been more important.

Though college football is a business, losing Norvell would have been massive for FSU on an emotional level, too. Some of that is because of how highly Norvell is regarded in the industry and on campus. President Richard McCullough called him an “incredible person” Friday. Athletic director Michael Alford praised his “dignity, class, warmth, humility and professionalism” and said FSU is “blessed to have him as one of its most visible ambassadors.”

But another, unavoidable part is the ego blow that would have accompanied his exit. Florida State touts itself as one of the premier programs in the country and has three national championships to back it up. That reputation would have been harder to justify if the Seminoles lost another coach to an SEC program, six years after Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M. It was bad enough that Fisher became the first coach in four decades to ditch a school where he won a national title to take another college job.

Norvell leaving for the program that took the final College Football Playoff spot ahead of FSU would have been devastating.

It did, however, look and feel like a possibility early Friday as the Alabama job remained open.

“As Coach of the Year, Mike Norvell could have gone anywhere,” McCullough said. “He chose FSU.”

Giving the Seminoles a monumental victory — one they hope will lead to even bigger ones in the future.

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