Mike Bianchi: Believe it or not, Wake Forest is Mike Norvell’s most monumental game as FSU coach

·4 min read

Ron Zook used to refer to it as “noise in the system.”

It was comparable to the uncontrollable, squealing, SHRRRIIIIIEEEEKKKKing amplifier feedback that hurts the ears of everyone in the building during a loud rock concert.

Except Zook, the perpetually embattled former Florida Gators football coach, use to reference it when talking about the clanging and clattering of fans and media who create a noxious negativity around a losing football team that precipitates even more losing.

Zook never had a chance because the noise in the system started early in his tenure and got louder and louder every year. He was only at Florida for three seasons, never had a losing record and went 16-8 in the SEC.

The reason I bring this up is because FSU coach Mike Norvell has entered the Zooker Zone. If you’re using the Zook scale to measure the noise in the system around Florida State’s program right now, I’d say the decibel level is about the same as a KISS concert — circa 1985.

Which is why Saturday’s game with at Wake Forest is the most important game of Norvell’s short tenure at FSU. If the Seminoles win it, they can at least temporarily quiet the noise in the system that is blaring after last week’s devastating, debilitating, down-to-the-wire loss to Division 1-AA Jacksonville State. If they lose it, the noise in the system will increase and sound like an endless, earsplitting loop of Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem.

How down is FSU after Saturday’s loss to Jackie State? This headline earlier this week at OrlandoSentinel.com should tell you all you need to know: “Wake Forest not looking past FSU.”

That’s right, it is actually a narrative up in Winston-Salem, N.C., about whether the Demon Deacons (2-0) will be overconfident heading into a game with FSU (0-2). Wake Forest, a five-point favorite, is talking about FSU the way FSU used to talk about Wake Forest.

Said Wake’s junior linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr.: “We’re not taking that Jacksonville State game as if Florida State is not a good team. We’re going into this game with the mentality that they’re coming here to try and beat us.”

For the sake and the stability of FSU’s program, Norvell better figure out a way to beat Wake and avoid FSU’s first 0-3 start since 1976. Even though he has only been in Tallahassee for a grand total of 11 games, it doesn’t take long in today’s impatient, impetuous world for college football fans and administrators to lose their minds.

Just ask Clay Helton, the former USC head coach who was just fired two games into the season. Better yet, just ask former FSU coach Willie Taggart, who didn’t even last two seasons as FSU’s coach. If you’re scoring at home, Norvell, who finished 3-8 during his inaugural season, needs to go 6-4 for the rest of this season simply to equal Taggart’s two-year record of 9-12 at FSU.

There are already premature message board posts speculating on whether Deion Sanders, P.J. Fleck or somebody else will emerge as the top candidate to replace Norvell should he be fired. This is the “noise in the system” I’m talking about that can become toxic if it continues to fester.

Personally, no matter what happens this season, I don’t believe the Seminoles should make another coaching change only two years after making their last coaching change only two years after making the coaching change before that. The Seminoles need to establish some stability and continuity or else they’ll end up like Tennessee, which is now on its fifth coach since the great Phil Fulmer was forced out a dozen years ago.

In my mind, Norvell gets a free pass for last season when he took over a dysfunctional program right in the middle of a global pandemic that put him at a massive disadvantage with changing the culture, implementing his schemes and establishing recruiting ties.

Besides, can Florida State really afford to fire Norvell? The program was already in a financial abyss before the pandemic wrecked college athletic budgets across the nation. Even before last season’s COVID-ravaged season, FSU’s season ticket sales fell below 25,000 in 2019 for the first time in years, which is ultimately why FSU decided to prematurely pull the plug on Taggart. Presumably, the school’s accounting department did the projections and figured out that the loss of tens of millions of dollars in ticket sales and booster contributions justified giving Taggart $20 million to go away.

However, it would be insane for FSU to spend another $18 million to buy out Norvell after only his second season and start all over again. At least, that’s what most reasonable-minded people believe.

And that’s why it’s imperative for Norvell to beat Wake Forest — so the reasonable-minded people are not drowned out by the clamoring cacophony of the fire-the-coach mob.

“The noise in the system only makes it worse,” Zook once told me. “The negativity turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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