While his program's 2019 season is over, Nevada football coach Jay Norvell might actually be even busier now than he was during the season.
Norvell, who just finished his third season with the Wolf Pack, is in the process of hiring a new defensive coordinator as well as two more defensive assistant coaches (and probably an offensive line coach; more on that later). But hiring a new coordinator has been Norvell's main focus this week.
"It’s probably the most important decision that I’ve had to make since I’ve been coach here," Norvell said. "I’m not rushing it. I’ve spent a lot of time with the people who we are considering. I’ve used all my resources to do background, and it’s my goal to bring a guy in that can build a championship defense."
Norvell said he's talked to several coaches about the job and is hopeful he will make an official hire in "the new few days or the next week." Norvell leaves town this weekend for the national coaches convention in Nashville, which runs Sunday through Tuesday, where he can meet with more coaches.
“I’m really excited about the defensive coaches I’ve been talking to," Norvell said. "I think they look at our school as a great place to come that has a real foundation that can take the next step. The guys that I’m talking to, we want a championship defense. That’s something we want at Nevada and promote for that. The guys I’ve talked to have experience doing that. That’s what really makes me excited.”
Norvell fired defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, secondary coach David Lockwood and safeties coach Mike Chamoures after the regular season and hired three interim coaches for the Wolf Pack's bowl game. In explaining the moves, Norvell said he wanted to find a coordinator who would be more active in recruiting and more willing to play and develop younger players.
“The respect that I’ve gotten from coaches all over the country is amazing," Norvell said of his ongoing search for a coordinator. "I’ve talked to the top-20 teams in football in defensive statistics. I’m talking to the head coach or people on staff that I know and they have incredible respect for the program and what we can accomplish, and I just feel like we’re going to be able to form a tremendously experienced staff that will help us go to the next level."
Norvell said one thing he's looking for during the search is a coach who can give Nevada's defense something that's unique.
"I always think it’s important to be a little bit different and a little bit unique," Norvell said. "I think that’s an advantage. Coach (Chris) Ault had that on offense with the Pistol, which was a little bit unique, and whether it’s defense or offense or special teams, if you can be a little bit unique in your league it makes it harder to prepare for you. It’s hard to prepare for Air Force because of the triple option. It’s hard to prepare for Hawaii because of their Run and Shoot. If you have a little bit of a twist to your scheme, it makes it a little tougher to prepare for you. That’s part of our thought process.”
Angus McClure headed to Cal
Norvell is in the market for an offensive line coach as Angus McClure, who has held that position the last two seasons for the Wolf Pack, has accepted the same position at Cal, per 247Sports.com.
Cal confirmed the hire independently on Friday afternoon. McClure is a Bay Area native who has an excellent reputation recruiting Northern California. McClure came to Nevada after 11 seasons as an assistant at UCLA. With the Wolf Pack, McClure also held the title of assistant head coach. McClure was originally a member of Nevada's staff in 1996. His son, Hamish, is a walk-on quarterback with the Wolf Pack after spending his first season of college at Sac State.
McClure was ranked No. 2 in the Mountain West coaches recruiting rankings for the 2020 season, per Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor at 247Sports. He oversaw a Nevada offensive line that struggled with youth and inexperience in 2019 but has long been considered one of the top assistant coaches on the West Coast.
Malik Henry's status undetermined
Quarterback Malik Henry, who started two games for Nevada in the middle of the season before being removed from the active roster to focus on academics and life outside of football, could still return to Nevada in 2020.
Norvell said it was undetermined if Henry, who began his career at Florida State and gained national fame by starring on Netflix's Last Chance U, will return next season. But he did finish the fall semester at Nevada despite no longer practicing with the team after Oct. 22.
“I need to have a conversation with Malik here before this (spring) semester starts and we’ll review his academics and that hasn’t been finalized yet,” Norvell said.
Henry went 1-1 as Nevada's starting, beating San Jose State with a 41-point effort before the team was held to seven points in a loss to Utah State. In those games, Henry completed 41-of-77 passes (53.2 percent) for 586 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.
Nevada has just three scholarship quarterbacks locked in for the 2020 season: returning starter Carson Strong, a sophomore; junior Kaymen Cureton, who began the 2019 season as a safety; and redshirt freshman Kaiden Bennett, who walked on at Nevada last season after transferring in from Boise State. Bennett will be put on scholarship in 2020. Henry was a walk-on last season.
Jamaal Bell could join in spring
Jamaal Bell, who was one of the highest-rated recruits to ever sign with Nevada, is on track to join the Wolf Pack for the spring semester. Bell, a wide receiver, was part of Nevada's 2019 class but never arrived on campus to work on his academic portfolio.
“We kind of over-signed and looked at everybody and handicapped everybody’s academics and stuff, so Jamaal took classes last fall and we’re looking to get him in school this spring and so far that’s gone well," Norvell said. "But he would be a real addition to our team. He’s a very dynamic return man. I just don’t think you can have enough return men. Over the course of the year, guys get nicked and hurt. It’s a hidden part of the game as far as yardage is concerned. The more we can have in the program the better. He can give us a shot there, too.”
Bell is the fifth-highest-rated recruit Nevada football has ever signed, per 247Sports' all-time recruiting tracker. He was listed as a three-star recruit and the No. 574 prospect in the 2019 class. Bell was listed as a 5-foot-10, 165-pound all-purpose running back by recruiting services, although he will play slot receiver at Nevada in addition to pitching in on special teams.
“He’s a slot. He’s a punt returner. He’s a kick returner," Norvell said. "Great speed. Exciting player.”
Bell is from Lancaster, Calif., and had scholarship offers from six Pac-12 teams and two Big Ten teams. In eight games as a senior, Bell had 10 carries for 56 yards and caught 24 passes for 444 yards and six touchdowns, per MaxPreps.com. In nine games as a junior, he had 24 carries for 246 yards and three touchdowns and added 46 catches for 828 yards and 11 scores.