Murray's Mailbag: Was Jay Norvell's five-year extension with Nevada premature?

Jay Norvell
Jay Norvell leads the Nevada football team on the field prior to a game at Toledo in 2017. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

We have a nice variety of topics to hit for this week's Monday Twitter Mailbag. The majority of questions were about the Nevada basketball team, but we'll start with football. Thanks, as always, for the inquiries. Let's get to the questions.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome.)

Nevada signed Jay Norvell to five-year, $3.125 million contract last week that is fully guaranteed and includes enough incentives he could net $1 million a season, although his guaranteed salary per year of $625,000 annually ranks last among the 12 Mountain West coaches. It is, however, the second-largest annual compensation for a Wolf Pack coach in any sport. Let's go over the pros and cons of the deal.

Pros: Nevada has won 15 games over the last two seasons, its most in a two-game stretch since 2010-11 ... The Wolf Pack reached back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2015-16 ... Nevada won its first game against a Top 25 team on the road last season (at San Diego State) ... The Wolf Pack beat Power 5 schools in back-to-back seasons in 2018-19 for the first time in school history (wins over Oregon State and Purdue) ... Nevada has a nice group of skill-position players recruited by Norvell ... Locking Norvell into this five-year deal doesn't break the bank as he's still the lowest-paid head football coach in the Mountain West ... Nevada's APR scores are well above the NCAA minimum, so the Wolf Pack is in good shape academically.

Cons: Nevada is 18-20 under Coach Norvell and his first three seasons are indistinguishable from Brian Polian's first three years ... Nevada is 1-2 against rival UNLV under Norvell; it also lost to an FCS team in his tenure ... The Wolf Pack is 4-15 against above-.500 teams during his tenure ... Nevada has been out-scored by its opponents by 153 points in Norvell's tenure ... The Wolf Pack lost four games by at least 26 points last season and was non-competitive in three of its eight MW games, a 51-point loss to Hawaii, a 26-point loss to Utah State and a 28-point loss to Wyoming ... Major indecision at the quarterback position has marked his tenure ... Attendance has hit record lows with an average home crowd of 16,694 fans per game compared to 22,581 per home game in the five years prior.

Was I surprised Nevada extended Coach Norvell? No, I was not. He was hired by athletic director Doug Knuth, so he's going to get more support than his predecessor, Brian Polian, who was hired four months before Knuth got the Wolf Pack job. Plus, Norvell was almost certainly going to get an extension after the 2020 season as long as he made a bowl, and it will be nearly impossible to not make a bowl in 2020 given the Wolf Pack's schedule, which will be one of the easiest in the nation. If you're going to give him an extension after 2020, I guess you might as well do it now to start the clock on the commitment.

Still, I would have waited until after the 2020 season considering Norvell had two more years left on his original five-year contract. I don't get the rush to give a fully guaranteed five-year deal. The timing was interesting. Instead of announcing the deal right after the season, it came almost two months later, giving some separation between the end of the year and the contract announcement. The end of the year wasn't pretty as Nevada's game management in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was mocked by national media. That came on the heels of losing the regular-season finale to rival UNLV (who fired their coach earlier in the week) at a half-empty Mackay Stadium in which the Wolf Pack sparked a brawl by throwing the first punch of a major melee.

At the macro level, you could argue Norvell has done a good job with the budget he is afford, and I've made that case in the past. The Wolf Pack is funded like a five- or six-win program. It has averaged six wins over his three seasons, including 7.5 wins per season over the last two. Again, it's hard to decipher any difference between Norvell and Polian's first three years – Polian's were actually a little stronger – so the extension is a year premature in my eyes, but Knuth's job is to project forward and there's a solid chance Nevada wins eight or nine games next season and Norvell drives up his price tag. I'd have waited, but I understand locking in the deal. I would have only gone three or four years, though, and if I was going five, I wouldn't have guaranteed the entire contract. I would have guaranteed just the base salary as Norvell's first contract did.

I can see that argument. Lock in your coach for five years on a fully guaranteed deal and if he blows up after a big 2020 season, you have him on a department-friendly contract for the next four years. If a power-conference program comes sniffing around, you have a sizable buyout in place. Another way I was thinking about this is Nevada has locked in a head football coach who will get you six or seven wins a year for the next five seasons at a bargain price and can invest a larger chunk of its new-found MW television money in basketball, which has become the prized program on campus. Steve Alford's contract is about to go from $500,000 a year to $1.15 million a year (starting in 2021-22) and will escalate from there, so locking in a football coach at 55 percent the MW average for a head football coach is a good deal. Norvell has done a solid job, after all, although being blown out in one-third of your regular-season games, as Nevada was in 2019, wasn't a great look. But when you look at the finances of it, you're getting good value in Norvell. The question is whether: (a) you can get a championship-level team out of his tenure; and (b) whether the fans will ever come back to Mackay Stadium. The lack of fan support the last three seasons is alarming. There's a disconnect there. It might not be on the coach. But there's a disconnect. Drawing crowds (and boosting revenue) is just as important as winning games.

Sure. A "unit" is one game played in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, that unit was worth $280,300. The conference of the team that plays in the NCAA Tournament gets that unit payment ($280,300) for six straight seasons. So playing one game in the NCAA Tournament is worth $1,681,800 over that six-year cycle ($280,300 multiplied by six). That money is split evenly among the teams in the conference (the MW office doesn't take a cut), with a small bonus going to the school that earned the credit. So, one unit is basically worth $25,500 per MW school per year. The more units you get, the more money for your conference. If San Diego State gets to the Sweet 16 this season, it will earn three units for the conference (one for the Round of 64 game, one for the Round of 32 game and one for the Sweet 16 game). The more teams you have in the tournament and the more games they play, the more money for the conference and the individual schools within that conference. That's why Wolf Pack fans should be rooting for San Diego State and Utah State in the Big Dance. One game played in the tournament means $1,681,800 for the conference (or $152,890 per school) over the six-year life of the unit.

2015: Four (two from SDSU, one from Boise State, one from Wyoming)

2016: One (one from Fresno State)

2017: One (one from Nevada)

2018: Four (three from Nevada; one from SDSU)

2019: Two (one from Nevada, one from Utah State)

2020: Two (minimum) (one from SDSU, one from Utah State)

So, the Mountain West is at a minimum of 14 units in the current six-year cycle if SDSU and Utah State lose their first-round game. The Mountain West could use a deep run because it has hemorrhaged units of late. In recent years, the conference lost seven units from the 2013 NCAA Tournament and four from the 2014 NCAA Tournament. I'll set the over/under on NCAA Tournament units earned by MW schools this March at 4.5 (and I'll take the under on that number). The MW would probably take a four-unit tournament. That'd be worth $6,727,200 over the six-year cycle for the conference.

Nevada has been the big bread-winner for the MW in recent years. The Wolf Pack has accounted for a league-high five units; SDSU with four; Utah State with two; and Boise State, Wyoming and Fresno State with one each. Maybe the MW should reward those schools rather than giving Boise State football an annual bonus of $1.8 million for simply being Boise State. These credits were earned.

Depends on whether SDSU's Malachi Flynn (a junior) and Utah State's Neemias Queta (a sophomore) turn pro. If they do, that will level the playing field. If they don't, it will be tough for Nevada to catch those teams next season. SDSU would return three of its top-four scorers if Flynn returns. If he leaves, the Aztecs will lose three of their top-five scorers. Regardless, SDSU always has a lot of talent. If Queta turns pro, Utah State would lose three of its top-four scorers. If he returns, the Aggies would return five of their top-seven scorers. My guess is Flynn leaves and Queta does not, which would put Utah State and SDSU at roughly the same level. They'd be in tier I with Nevada, UNLV and Colorado State in tier II. Boise State is losing three of its top-five scorers (four of five if Derrick Alston, a junior, turns pro), so the Broncos probably slip a level. It's going to be hard for Nevada to close the gap next season given it loses three of its top-four scorers. I'm sure others in the MW envision the Wolf Pack slipping a tier.

It's almost as if Utah State's Sam Merrill took offense to all of the chatter of Jalen Harris vs. Malachi Flynn for Mountain West player of the year and wanted to prove there are three bad-asses in the conference. In the MW Tournament, Merrill averaged 27.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 55.8 percent from the field, including 42.3 percent from three. And that was all a lead-up to hitting the game-winning 3-pointer to beat San Diego State in the MW Tournament title game. Merrill played big on the biggest stage and in the biggest moment of the year. If you're ranking players based on the entire season, I'd go (1) Flynn, (2) Merrill and (3) Harris, but I was asked to vote for player of the year based on MW regular-season stats only, so it was (1) Harris, (2) Flynn, (3) Merrill. It's been a while since the Mountain West had three of the top-20 players in the nation.

He isn't on the Mt. Rushmore of all-time Mountain West basketball players. That'd be SDSU's Kawhi Leonard, Utah's Andrew Bogut, New Mexico's Danny Granger and BYU's Jimmer Fredette. I ranked the top-13 players in Mountain West history last year. He'd make that list if I revised it today. Merrill's 2,197 points (and counting) rank second in MW history behind Fredette (2,599). He's had individual success and team success, so I could see putting him in the top six or seven in the league's history. It kind of depends on how his pro career plays out.

In terms of Nevada fan support, the student sections lagged this year. There weren't as many engagement points from the team to the students this season, and it reflected in fan (and overall) attendance. New Mexico and SDSU have built their fan bases over multiple decades. Utah State' s student section has always been great when the team is winning. With Nevada, we're talking about a three-year period of immense fan support, but it takes more than a couple of years to build what those other MW schools have.

Craig Smith is a very good coach. Prior to his time at Utah State, Smith was the head coach at South Dakota (he went 79-55 there) and NAIA school Mayville State (he went 72-29 there). Smith inherited a Utah State program stuck in the 14- to 18-win range the previous five seasons and has won 54 games and three Mountain West titles in his first two seasons. He inherited an excellent player in Sam Merrill, so he'll have to show he can continue the winning without him, but I could definitely see Smith getting a power-conference job down the line.

I'll go under on San Diego State getting 2.5 wins in the NCAA Tournament. That would require the Aztecs getting to the Elite Eight, which no Mountain West team has ever accomplished. ESPN's BPI gives SDSU a 32.3 percent chance of getting to the Elite Eight, so I'll side with those odds and bet under.

And that's Caleb Martin dunking on Sam Merrill. Of course, a charge was called. But the charge is worth having that photo for the rest of your life. It looks superhuman.

Caleb Martin signed a three-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets worth $4,198,912, so he should remain on the team for two more seasons, even if that means some time in the G League, which he is clearly too good for. Martin has gotten his most extended playing time of the season of late, logging minutes in 10 of the Hornets' last 11 games and averaging 5.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists (19.4 minutes per game). He's shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from three in that stretch. He's finding himself a niche.

Wins over Wyoming, Utah State and San Diego State would have put Nevada at 22-11 with an additional Quad 1 and Quad 2 win. The Wolf Pack would be somewhere around 70-75 in the NET rankings. You're looking at a low 12 seed or high 13 seed, so the Wolf Pack would be playing a team like Butler, Ohio State, Virginia or Iowa in the first round.

Utah State will be an 11 seed at worst. I see the Aggies as a 10 seed. There's no way they're a 13 seed. They have three wins over NCAA Tournament teams (LSU, Florida, San Diego State). Utah State could use an NCAA Tournament win. The Aggies have lost their last eight NCAA Tournament games dating to 2001 when they beat Ohio State in overtime in the first round. Utah State is 1-18 in its last 19 NCAA Tournament games. That goes back to 1970.

Well, it could. It could play whoever it wants to play. But I wouldn't do that, and Nevada wouldn't do that. If you're going to play in a postseason tournament, you should play to win the tournament. I'm probably in the minority here, but I don't think playing in an event like the CBI really helps you for the following season. I don't believe the momentum carries. I mean, Texas won the NIT last year and basically had a repeat season this year. South Florida won the CBI last year and is 14-17 this season. Marshall won the CIT last year and is 16-15 this season. No spring-boarding there. Just go out and try to win the tournament. Don't worry about developing young guys.

Zane Meeks was a little more advanced than you'd think for a freshman. He has the best chance of making the leap. K.J. Hymes had some nice moments, but he'll have to fight even more for minutes in 2020-21 with Warren Washington becoming eligible. The success of the 2020-21 season will largely depend on (a) whether Jalen Harris is on the roster; (b) how good transfers Desmond Cambridge and Warren Washington are in their first season of eligibility; (c) whether Nevada can get an impact transfer with its final scholarship; and (d) how much help the five-player prep recruiting class signed in November will provide. I'll admit my belief the 2019-20 team would be better than the 2020-21 team was largely based on my thought Harris would grad transfer. That doesn't appear to be the case now, so next year's team might be able to match this year's team, but you're replacing a lot of production. Fair expectations would not stretch beyond what was accomplished this season. That said, the 2020-21 schedule will probably be easier. This year's schedule ended up being one of the toughest in school history. Nevada could be a little worse next year and still win more games.

So you're talking purely win-loss record? I'll go with Coach Alford because the Mountain West is a lot easier than the SEC. Coach Alford should have a better winning percentage at Nevada than Coach Musselman does at Arkansas, but I'd guess Musselman has more "success" (meaning NCAA Tournaments, etc.) between the two. More margin for error getting into the Big Dance out of the SEC.

Arkansas is 3-7 in its last 10 games, so it's not even on the bubble heading into the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks would need to win five games in five days to win the conference tournament and get the automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament. That's not happening. Arkansas, which is the No. 11 seed in the 14-team SEC field, needs at least three wins this week and might need to get to the SEC title game to get an at-large berth. That's four wins in four days. That won't be easy, but I wouldn't completely shut the door on an at-large bid for the Razorbacks (19-12, 7-11 SEC).

1. No

2. No

3. No

4. Paper straws!

5. I don't care about the tie, but I do care about pizza. Everybody should get free pizza. (And Alford did hand out pizza before a game. Sans tie!)

The massive CONEXPO-CON/AGG construction trade show is being held in Las Vegas this week, which made hotel room figures outrageous (although the Pac-12, WAC and WCC didn't move their tournaments out of Las Vegas this week). The increased cost led the Mountain West to move its tournament up a week. There was discussion of moving it to a different site (San Diego, Phoenix and Sacramento among the options) but the conference kept it in Las Vegas. I'm not sure how the extra week off with help or hurt SDSU and Utah State. The teams will be idle a minimum of 11 days off before playing again. I could see them being a little rusty.

Well, Wyoming's Allen Edwards and Air Force's Dave Pilipovich were both fired today. Edwards went 60-76 overall and 24-49 in the MW. The Cowboys posted back-to-back 20-win years to start Edwards' tenure to back-to-back single-digit win seasons under him. Pilipovich went 110-151 overall and 50-100 MW, and while that's a tough job, Pilipovich was given plenty of time to turn things around. The only other Mountain West coaches who could be fired are Jean Prioleau (San Jose State) and Paul Weir (New Mexico), but both just finished their third season on the job. Coaches usually get four seasons minimum (except for Marvin Menzies at UNLV). Weir has a contract through 2023, and New Mexico just had to buy out its football coach. I imagine he and Prioleau get another season and will enter 2020-21 on the proverbial hot seat.

To be determined. After a program-worst 0-10 start to the season, Nevada has won two of its last three. But it still ranks last in the Mountain West in scoring and last in ERA, which is not a good combination. It hasn't played a very strong schedule to date (225th in the nation) and is last in the conference in RPI. Before getting to conference play, Nevada has series with Utah (49th in RPI), Michigan (73rd) and Sac State (107), so the schedule gets tougher heading forward. The good news for Nevada is the MW is not very good (18th in RPI; only three teams in the top 160 in the RPI), so it could right the ship when it gets into conference play. But it will have to play a lot better. The offense did show some signs of life against Cal Baptist. But Cal Baptist would be the worst team in the MW, and Nevada just split four games at home against them.

TJ Friedl is in spring training with the Reds, Miles Mastrobuoni with the Rays and Braden Shipley with the Royals. Brock Stassi is with the A's but has not appeared in a spring training game. Western Nevada College's D.J. Peters is in camp with the Dodgers. I think that's it. The Mountain West will have about a dozen big-leaguers this season, the most notable being Aaron Judge (Fresno State) and Stephen Strasburg (SDSU). The rest are going to be up-and-down guys.

I've bet maybe five times in the last decade, usually for the Super Bowl. So, no, I don't bet even though I should given my history of predictions on Wolf Pack games. I don't mind sports betting going national. Yes, it's a vice and can be dangerous for some, but I don't think that "freedom" should be restricted. For most, it's all in good fun and keeps people more involved with sports than they normally would be. And making betting legal and regulating it decreases the chances of throwing games. SDSU alum Ty France was the PCL MVP last year and could get a full year with the Padres.

You could call a moving screen on 75 percent of the screens set in college basketball. It's kind of like holding in football. I'd shy away from calling illegal screens unless they are blatant. They get called too often for my liking.

I don't really eat breakfast. I am usually doing intermittent fasting. But Full Belly Deli's Breakfast Sando was featured on Food Network recently, so probably that one even though it's not a burrito.

Basically every week I post my poll I get somebody hating on me. The Kansas fans have been the worst this season, which is unusual because it's usually fans of lesser programs. Kansas fans arguing they're not getting enough national love is weird. It's one of the top programs in the nation. And they're lucky their program hasn't been blown up given all of the NCAA violations it has racked up, including five Level I violations. Maybe Jayhawk fans should chill. Today, I had a Providence fan get on me for not having the Friars in my Top 25. This guy was sure his team would be in the Top 25 today. It was not. I had a Penn State fan get on me earlier this year for having the Nittany Lions three spots below the consensus vote. Penn State is 1-5 since then. Usually when a fan base speaks up, their team starts to tank.

I did write about it in the Jan. 27 Mailbag, saying at the time: "I really like it. It has definitely grown on me with repeat listens. It has an '80s vibe whether you want to compare it to Talking Heads or Bowie or Devo. Pearl Jam could have gone with straight-forward rock, and apparently there are some songs in that vein on this album, but I like the experimentation. The bass line, played by rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard, is great, and Eddie Vedder's vocals and lyrics are top notch. It's much better than 2018's one-off release, Can't Deny Me. Pearl Jam's first five albums are classics. The most recent five are good but don't reach that level. The first single here has my hopes up for another classic album. It's a great start. Here's the new song in case anybody has missed it." Since then, Pearl Jam has released a second single, Superblood Wolfmoon, which isn't at the same level of Dance of the Clairvoyants. The guitar solo and riff out of it are awesome, but the vocals are all over the place. So far, I'm happy with what I've heard so far.

I did not, but some further research shows JaVale McGee produced Justin Bieber's song "Available." The New York Times did a full story on it, with McGee saying he first started producing songs as a freshman at Nevada.

"I started in 2008, and I wasn’t really good," McGee told the New York Times. "I didn’t understand that you have to get different sounds from different producers. I didn’t understand the intricacies of building relationships and producing. I thought you just make a beat and give it to the artists. But it’s not like that at all. I really figured out it’s more about relationships rather than just making a million beats and hoping somebody picks it up. I have some good friends in the music industry and they would show me stuff. They would just teach me. You need this, buy this app, you need this right here. Just helping me get my producing right."

McGee has a song on the No. 1 album in the world and is about to get his third championship ring. Amazing.

Baseball season, although I don't watch sports on television nearly as much as I used to. I try and get out of the house when I have free time.

According to the Internet, "All domestic cats descended from a Middle Eastern wildcat, Felis sylvestris, which literally means 'cat of the woods.' Cats were first domesticated in the Near East, and some of the study authors speculate that the process began up to 12,000 years ago." Dogs are better than cats anyway.

The words "parkway" and "driveway" were invented in the 1800s and predate the creation of the car, so the terms were solidified before we started driving on parkways and parking on driveways. Parkways originally referred to a broad road through a park for carriages before cars started driving on them. Driveways were private roads that gave access from a public way to a building, which became places people parked their cars. The earliest driveways were roads that ran alongside barns. Wagons and the like stopped there to offload cargo.

Why are we stealing other people's questions?

You should be moved out of the house by the time you graduate college. I don't mind living at home to put yourself through college given how expensive higher education has become. But cut the cord after you don the college cap and gown. As for taking care of your parents, it's always admirable if you are doing that no matter your age. You know how much time, effort and financial support it takes to raise children? Children should be more than willing to repay the favor when their parents are in old age. It's the least they can do.

Good point. Get some blue gallons of paint out to the Little Wal pronto.

Monday: Vending machine at Silver Legacy

Tuesday: Vending machine at Eldorado

Wednesday: Vending machine at Peppermill

Thursday: Vending machine at GSR

Friday: Diablo Coffee at Harrah's Steakhouse (before it closes)

Spoiler alert: Most people have awful grammar. America ranks 27th in the world in education, down from sixth in 1990. We'd rather spend $686 billion a year on defense rather than spend money on education, health care, etc. (I used etc. correctly!) We spend more money every year on defense than education. We need those nuclear bombs!

"That's the smell of desire my lady." See y'all next week!

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