September 10, 2022
FORT COLLINS -- Jay Norvell has been relentlessly upbeat in promoting his CSU program in transition.
He has made the Colorado media circuits as
if he has a movie coming out.
has visited student residences on campus.
He has met and greeted and shook hands with boosters and alumni.
All in all, he has drawn rave reviews on those fronts. Finally, someone who
the Rams' ugly 34-19 loss to Middle Tennessee State at Canvas Stadium Saturday -- there's not much need to go into the details
-- I asked him what message he'd want to send to the Stalwart constituencies.
The Rams were down 27-0 at halftime, at home, to a team coming off a 44-7 loss
to James Madison.
The CSU season-opening 51-7 loss to Michigan can be waved off for $1.8 million reasons; not this one.
Stick with the Rams?
(As a question, it was a batting practice pitch. It was not part of a dark agenda.)
Norvell detoured in his answer, but it eventually was revealing.
"I'd have been disappointed, too, if I'd been watching
that football today," he said. "It was bad. The first half was really bad. I'm asking them to stay with us. We've
got a young football team. We've got a lot of guys working and we're holding them to the fire to do things right. And I'll
be honest with you, they're doing a lot of thing differently than they've had to do in the past. That's the way that we're
going to be. We're going to make them accountable to do things right on and off the field. And they're going to get better
or they're not going to play. It's really that simple. Guys have to learn how to take advantage of their opportunities.
"One of the things I just told them was that guys gotta support each other. Guys
gotta help each other through adversity. We've given every one of theses kids on the team more reps than they've ever had.
We've had split practices, our threes and fours have had as many reps as the ones and twos and we've had a chance to see everybody
practice, everybody play, to see what they can do. There's no reason any player on this team shouldn't support their teammates
to do everything they can to help win. If we're not getting that, that's a problem. Part of our responsibility as coaches
is to make guys accountable to their teammates and do the things we're asking them to do."
A major peril now for Norvell and the Rams is a potential
schism between the 11 transfers Norvell brought with him from Nevada and the program's holdover players, many of them now playing for their third head coach. He also will have to walk the fine line between: a)
being both privately and publicly realistic about the talent base he inherited; and b) sufficiently embracing it in order
to get the most out of it, at least for this season and 2023.
He also shouldn't get into Steve Addazio territory. Norvell's
predecessor repeatedly either hinted or flat-out declared that we -- media, public, alumni -- had no idea of the degree of
anarchy or toxicity under Mike Bobo. The locker room was divided, but to be fair, Addazio had his supporters. Regardless of
its justification, though, Addazio's woe-is-us pronouncements came off as excuse-making and were counterproductive.
The lesson to be learned there was from Jim McElwain, who
pragmatically understood that to use this job as a steppingstone within a few years, he would have to win with a core of Steve
Fairchild's players. He and his staff pulled it off, especially in the kismet 2014 season. Yes, the landscape is different
now and quick turnover is more possible through the transfer portal and other means, but neither can you completely clean
house overnight. If you act as if you wish you could, the holdovers won't run through pillows for you, much less a wall.
To be fair, Norvell has lost both starting tackles to knee
injuries. Brian Crespo-Jacquez got the word during the week he's done for the year. Dontae Keys, a transfer from Florida International,
played only a couple of series against MTSU before he was ruled out with a sprained knee ligament. The result was an amping
up the pressure on redshirt freshman quarterback Clay Millen. He's been so harried (and battered), the natural reaction is
to wonder if the linemen don't like him. He has been sacked 16 times in two games.
Norvell mused that he might have to experiment and shuffle remaining linemen around, with one
possibility as moving center Jacob Gardner, one of the Nevada transfers, to tackle.
Next up: Washington Stete on the road. The Cougars are 2-0 and coming off a win
The Rams' biggest challenge is to stick
together and not divide into camps.
In fact, you might say that should be their agenda.