Memphis coach Mike Norvell speaks on his seven new assistants and what they bring to the football team Evan Barnes, The Commercial Appeal
It would be understandable if Memphis football coach Mike Norvell passed out nametags when he introduced the newest members of his coaching staff Saturday.
Norvell hired seven assistants, the most changes he’s had to a staff during his tenure. Now the challenge comes in getting everyone on the same page.
The good news, Norvell said, was the staff got time to bond during last week’s American Football Coaches Association convention. It was a foundation he expected to build upon between now and the start of spring practice on March 16.
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“It’s something that we’re going to have to go through the process,” Norvell said. “We’re going to find out new things about each other each and every day but that’s the joy of being a part of a staff.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller were among the seven assistants present. Also present were Deke Adams (defensive line), Pete Lembo (assistant head coach/special teams), John Simon (wide receivers), Kevin Clune (linebackers) and Tony Tokarz (tight ends).
It’s an experienced staff with Johns, Fuller, Lembo and Clune each having experience as a coordinator. Yet they were all united in recognizing the success Memphis had built over the past three seasons.
Memphis Tigers Offensive Coordinator Kevin Johns talks to reporters during a press conference to introduce new coaching staff members on the university’s campus Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (Photo: Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal)
Johns said Memphis’ reputation for its high-powered offense was part of why he applied and Norvell’s uptempo style is like what he was used to in coordinator jobs at Indiana and Texas Tech.
“Any offensive coach would love to work here and learn from Coach Norvell and I feel very blessed that I get the opportunity to do that,” Johns said. “But make no mistake about it, it’s very well known that this place can score points and score on anybody.”
Fuller said his defense will be aggressive and wants people to say that his unit is fundamentally sound with great technique. He wasn’t worried about how long it’d take to build cohesion on the staff because he embraced the growth that comes from being uncomfortable.
He and Adams share a similar philosophy of a strong defensive front that attacks the ball. He complimented Clune’s history of developing linebackers and defensive backs coach TJ Rushing’s work with cornerback TJ Carter.
“I think we have a tremendous defensive staff and it’s going to take some work just like it would if I knew everybody so it’s just one step at a time with those guys,” Fuller said.
The staff will hit the recruiting trail for next three weeks leading up to National Signing Day on Feb. 6.
While Norvell stressed that it’s going to take time, he and his staff were also confident the foundation they set in the past few days hinted that the process wouldn’t be as stressful as it is enjoyable.
“In this profession you can worry about egos sometimes,” Johns said. “There’s none of that here at this school. It’s just a lot of good guys who really just want to win and develop young men and we take that from Coach Norvell,”
Metro-East Lutheran athletics director Jason Batty watched as the numbers began to dwindle, whether it was due to injuries or eligibility.
He saw his Knights football players losing the battle of attrition and began to worry.
“I just became more concerned with the safety of our players more than anything because they’re not getting off the field and playing all three phases,” Batty said. “To me, it just wasn’t safe and smart, so I started to look at other options.”
Having kept a close eye on the emergence of 8-man football in Illinois, Batty pulled the trigger.
Beginning in the 2019 season, Metro-East Lutheran will become the 11th team to join the Illinois 8-Man Football Association. The Metro-East Lutheran school board gave approval to the change Monday.
“We just felt like that it was a necessary step for the viability of our program,” Metro-East Lutheran football coach Micah Pomerenke said. “Maybe in the future we can take a step back into 11-man, but right now we felt that it was a necessary move. I think it’ll be a real positive move for us.”
Metro-East Lutheran posted a record of 6-73 as an 11-man team from 2010-18, and its 41-12 victory against Union City (Tenn.) on Sept. 21 was its first win on the field since beating Bunker Hill 34-27 on Aug. 30, 2013. Two of the program’s six victories since 2010 came via forfeit.
During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Metro-East Lutheran and Madison played as a co-op program, going 0-9 each year.
With the future of the program in jeopardy after fielding 16 players during the 2018 season, six of which were seniors, Batty began looking for options to save the program and found a home in the second-year association.
“I figured that if we did not go to 8-man, I saw us potentially not having a team next year,” Batty said.
Metro-East Lutheran will be the only St. Louis area school to play 8-man football.
In 8-man football, teams use two fewer linemen on offense and one less skill-position player. On defense, a team’s formation decides where the three fewer players are subtracted.
In addition to fewer players, field dimensions also can be altered to be more narrow and shorter than 11-man football (100 yards long, 53 yards wide). Eight-man fields in Missouri, for instance, are 80 yards long and 40 yards wide.
“Schematically, it’s a high-scoring game, lots of offense,” Pomerenke said. “If you have speed, you can win. If you can get to the edge, you can go. It creates some interesting defense that you can throw out there that you can scheme against. You do see some unique stuff. I think it will be a real benefit for us, where we may have had six or eight pretty good guys and then have to play some underclassmen who weren’t ready for varsity football at three or four other positions. Now you can trim that down and have your best guys out there.”
The Illinois 8-Man Football Association will schedule eight games for the Knights for the 2019 season while allowing the Knights to schedule a ninth game. The schedule is expected to be finalized in March.
The closest opponent to Metro-East Lutheran, which is located in Edwardsville, in the 11-team 8-man association is Jacksonville ISD in Jacksonville, Ill. The Knights could be traveling as far as Hebron, located north of Chicago, to play Alden-Hebron.
Milford-Cissna Park beat Alden-Hebron in last season’s inaugural Illinois 8-Man Football Association championship game, 66-12.
With the Knights becoming the first southern Illinois school making the switch to 8-man football, perhaps others will follow.
“I had a few other schools call and say that if we could break the ice, maybe some other schools will hop on the board,” Batty said.
Pomerenke echoed the sentiments of his athletics director and added it may become a trend for other smaller schools to follow suit.
“I really see with the trends going on across the country you see not the same kind of participation and I can really see a number of these small towns across Illinois going to 8-man because of the logistics,” Pomerene said. “You don’t have to coordinate a co-op between two separate schools and I think it may become more of a trend in the next few years.”
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In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports‘ Patrick Davison, Ainsley Maitland-Niles talks about his rise from academy prospect to the Arsenal first team.
A product of Arsenal’s Hale End academy, the 21-year-old joined the club at the age of six before going on to make his first-team debut against Galatasaray in the Champions League at the age of 17.
The English midfielder went on to make 28 appearances for the club last season under Arsene Wenger and has been an important part of Unai Emery’s squad this season, featuring 12 times so far in all competitions.
West Ham vs Arsenal
January 12, 2019, 11:30am
Ahead of Arsenal’s trip to the London Stadium to face West Ham, live on Sky Sports on Saturday, Maitland-Niles describes his love for Arsenal, his early days at the club, his progression under Unai Emery and his plans for the future…
Love for Arsenal
“I’ve had love for the club since I’ve been here. I’ll always have love for it but it’s getting stronger every day.
“It started a long time ago playing for Lakeview. It was pretty strange to get a call at such a young age and for someone to tell you a fantastic club like Arsenal had been watching you and monitoring your progress.
“I can’t remember the team we were playing against at the time but I think my dad came up to me afterwards and he said that there was a scout that was talking to him and from that conversation my face lit up as soon as I heard Arsenal because that was my boyhood club.”
The link to Arsenal
“I think it’s more of my dad to be honest. Since I was born he’s just loved Arsenal.
“He’s always bought me football kits since growing up as a baby. I had a few Dreamcast kits and that’s going back a long way. It was in the heart from a young age.”
Favourite player growing up?
“My generation was Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp. Henry was my favourite player.
“Growing up as a kid he was the perfect player. He scored goals, he ran back to help the team out, made assists and was just physically amazing.”
Favourite Henry moment?
“In the unbeaten season, the solo goal against Liverpool. Perfect. What more can you ask for?
“I met him twice. I tried not to [turn to jelly] but maybe he would’ve said I turned to jelly, I’m not sure. Seeing an idol like that in the flesh you just look at him, take in all that he’s achieved and you just want to replicate it.”
The early days at Arsenal
“It was training three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then either a game on Saturday or Sunday, depending on what age you were.
“I was a striker growing up. Thierry Henry was the perfect role model at the time. Then everybody started growing but I was still a bit short. As I was still quick, direct and could run at players they thought they’d put me on the wing. So up until the age of 16 I was a winger.
At about the age of 14 [I realised I was good enough for Arsenal], before then it was just a dream. I wouldn’t have said I was definitely going to make it before then.
“It was my mindset that changed. I had a few conversations with my father and he gave the belief in myself that if I actually put my mind to it and enjoy it more then I could be whatever I want to be.
“I didn’t believe in myself enough. I had fun whilst I was playing on some days but some days I thought I didn’t want to play anymore. It was about being more in tune with myself and thinking that I have a talent for a reason.”
Away from football
“Thinking about it is funny because at the time there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do, but I didn’t take football as seriously as I should’ve done.
“The dream was to be a footballer. I didn’t think I would play for such a tremendous club at the age of six. To be here now is fantastic.
“The dream is only half of the puzzle. The reality of it is putting everything together, growing up and producing.”
“He said to me that I need to keep working hard. He enjoyed playing against me and that was it really. He just told me to keep going and gave me some words of advice which was nice. “
Best season, best game?
“The standout season would have to be more towards my age now.
“I’d probably say it was last season. I had my debut at the age of 17. It was a proud moment for me but playing in the Premier League and the Europa League consistently last season was more of an achievement for me than making my debut for the club.
“[The gap between debut and regular] is a massive test. Some people get it straight away but in other cases you have to fight hard. It’s a little taster, and it’s great to have a taster, but not everyone makes it the full length. To have that mindset that my toe was in the pond and then actually getting in fully, there’s a big difference.
“After the Galatasaray game I felt like I was all the way there. My dad spoke to me and he said there’s a long way to go yet, it’s just the start. The difference between that time and now is four years, so it can happen in an instant or it can happen over a period.”
Progression at Arsenal
“There are a lot of ups and downs in football.
“For me personally, my journey has been different to a lot other people. I’ve had to go out on loan after my debut and that’s another year out of the club. To have to come back and then everyone has made decisions on players that they’ve seen for the whole season, it could push you back in the pecking order.
“Going out on loan was good for me. I grew up as a person. I became a man quicker during that year. I will always appreciate that year.”
“I’m a central midfielder but I can play in various positions.”
“It’s a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because if someone’s injured you can easily fill in, and you are the first one to be called. The other side of it is you never really find your rightful position. You are always moving about, and you don’t know how to stick to one position. You do different things when you get moved around.”
Progression under Unai Emery
“It’s been slow progression but I think he would probably say the same thing.
“We are working to build a relationship together, so we can progress more throughout the season and in the years to come.
“There’s a high level of expectation that he expects of me and I’m willing to give that each day. Every day we are learning more from each other, about each other and about the game.
“Him expecting more from me makes me work 10 times harder every day. I know that he’s watching me and I know he wants more than what I’m producing. For me, it’s never enough, I need to do more constantly and I’ll just become a work horse from doing that.
“I’m very hard on myself. My dad tries to laugh at me for being too hard on myself. I’ve had it from very young. I used to get very angry at myself quickly, but it’s been a big factor in why I am here today.
“If you are not willing to go in everyday and give 100 per cent then you might as well call it a day.”
“Scoring my first professional goal against Liverpool.
“It was soured very soon after, though. I was heartbroken after the game to be honest. I’d never been involved in a 5-1 defeat before at first-team level. It was bad on all levels for me.”
More to come
“I don’t feel like I’m there. I’m still young and I have a lot of learning to do.
“Even if I was playing week in, week out I wouldn’t say I was there because the learning stage I am at now, I still have so much more to give to the game.
“Once I get there where I can’t give any more, then I’d say I’m there.”
In the future…
“I’d like to be a winger. I feel comfortable there and I’ve been playing there this season.
“I like to think of myself as a winger at 25 years old, starting every week for Arsenal, scoring and assisting goals.”
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Last year it was Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa who took over in the second half and led an improbable comeback against Georgia, ending in a 41-yard overtime bomb, the likes of which we saw over and over this season.
Now it’s another offseason, but like Groundhog Day — Louisville’s coaches saw Trevor Lawrence, which means six more months of preparing for another freshman star.
Tagovailoa in last year’s national championship game: 14-for-24, 166 yards, three touchdowns, one interception. (He only played the second half and overtime.)
Lawrence in this year’s national championship game: 20-for-32, 347 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions.
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If you turned this game off at halftime, allow us to remind you that Clemson obliterated Louisville, 77-16, in November in Death Valley. Bobby Petrino was fired eight days later. (But, hey, it turned out Louisville scored as many points as Alabama did on the champs.)
Progress is slow in college football, and Louisville is no closer to catching Clemson than it was two months ago — perhaps even further, if Monday night is any indication. Lawrence, star running back Travis Etienne and star receiver Justyn Ross will all be back next year.
Consider that Scott Satterfield’s welcome to the ACC. The conference hasn’t announced dates of league games for next season, but you can bet that one will be circled in Louisville’s offices.
Louisville’s players spoke last year about how motivating it was to have Alabama as the season opener after the Crimson Tide won the national championship. Clemson won’t be the opener— that would be Notre Dame — but the Cardinals can go through all of winter conditioning, spring practice and fall camp knowing they’ll have ample opportunity to prove themselves next season.
Louisville vs. national champions
2016 champion: Clemson. 2017 outlook: Pretty good, with Lamar Jackson coming back — or so everyone thought. Result: A blowout. With Jackson in 2016, Louisville was within a few yards of the national champions, losing 42-36. The Cards returned Jackson in 2017, and the Tigers lost Deshaun Watson. But Clemson’s 47-21 drubbing in prime time at Cardinal Stadium was a sign of Dabo Swinney’s sustained dominance and Louisville’s lethal flaws.
2017 champion: Alabama. 2018 outlook: Not good. Doom in the forecast all offseason. Result: Expected. Breaking in a new quarterback and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder in 2018, Louisville kicked off a miserable season with a 51-14 loss to this Alabama team. If only we knew then how much worse it would get.
2018 champion: Clemson. 2019 outlook: Yikes. Preview: The Clemson team that visits Cardinal Stadium next fall will look an awful lot like Monday night’s version — too similar for Louisville fans. The Cards have a lot of work to do to catch up.
Previously: Tidal Wave: Alabama overwhelms Louisville football in season opener
It won’t happen. It can’t happen. Anyone proposing that the Premiership should cut loose from the RFU and become a rebel league must be playing a game of brinkmanship, because the notion is ludicrous.
Not only is it unworkable and devoid of sporting logic, it would also be an act of vandalism which would tear apart the sport in this country.
That is not an exaggeration. Club v country disputes have been a feature of the professional era in English rugby, but a breakaway by the clubs would cause and require monumental upheaval, from grass-roots to the Test arena.
The proposed breakaway of Premiership clubs should not be allowed to happen
If it turns out to be a strategy on the part of militant factions within PRL — a negotiating tool designed to help realise the aim of sealing off the top division — it is not convincing.
Going it alone is not just about the pursuit of precious new ‘markets’ in far-flung corners of the globe, it is about the tedium of every-day governance. It is about organising refs, drug tests, insurance policies, disciplinary hearings and community coaching.
Certain owners are agitating to be freed from perceived chains, in order to reach for the stars. But those chains of RFU control come with money attached. That point appears to be overlooked.
Some within the hierarchy of the club game believe they have a product fit for world domination. They see a chance to follow football’s voyage far beyond these shores. They see firework displays and cheerleaders, hashtags and ‘likes’, razzmatazz and glamour. They see a ‘brand’ and dollar signs.
But rugby is not football. The world does not wait, with open arms and minds and wallets, for Worcester v Newcastle, or even Saracens v Exeter. Global conquest is a long way off.
Frankly, the clubs would be best off getting their houses in order first. Not enough of them fill their own stands, let alone have the box-office appeal to do so in America or the Middle East.
It remains to be seen whether there really are markets to tap into across the Atlantic and in China. And why do all sports now have to set out to become international brands anyway?
The Premiership is an English league and there are plenty of English people who remain immune to its charms. Focus on them first.
Bernie Ecclestone has had talks with the CVC hierarchy about their investment in rugby
How about this to aggravate the rugby establishment — ex-Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who has had talks with the CVC hierarchy about their investment, saying: ‘If you got hold of the guys and tarted them up, it would be bigger than American football.’ Tarted them up?
Then there’s Bristol chairman Steve Lansdown’s take. ‘The deciding factor is how many games you can physically play,’ he said.
‘We’ve already got Friday, Saturday and Sunday games. Will we see the odd game in the week? Maybe. Television will dictate when we play. That’s happened with football. We will see those habits changing. That may not be the best for the fan experience but we’ll get used to it.’
And what about those players? A breakaway league would leave them forced to either abandon their club contracts or Test careers. It is hard to imagine many deciding they’ll give up on England in return for midweek games and trips to new ‘markets’.
Football has been dictated to by TV rights-holders to an extent that cannot happen in rugby. There is welfare to think about.
If rugby wants to follow football, the conclusion will be absurd kick-off times to suit viewers in China, a saturated calendar, devalued marquee fixtures and imported talent having a negative effect on the production of England players.
And if franchising is the model of choice, what price a team from Qatar or Shanghai being added one day? Never mind poor Cornwall, as they strive to tap into so much native passion for the game.
Ian Ritchie is at the heart of the issue having moved swiftly from one side to the other
At the heart of all this is Ian Ritchie — who has jumped from one side of the fence to the other with staggering haste. He left the RFU, wandered down the road and joined PRL, armed with so much insight about how to take on the union in boardroom conflict.
He claims that talk of a civil war is ‘ridiculous’, when what is most ridiculous is that his job-swap was even allowed to happen. For now, Ritchie is in diplomatic mode, saying that the clubs want to continue working closely with the union. Of course they do, because they need the hand-outs.
But with CVC coming in, spying an opportunity to make a swift buck from another sport, don’t bet against the club-country truce collapsing again. It feels as if rugby here is back on a knife edge.
Scott Keepfer and Manie Robinson recap Clemson’s National Championship media day. BART BOATWRIGHT/Staff, The Greenville News
Clemson defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell (99) and defensive lineman Christian Wilkins (42) react after Ferrell recovered a fumble by Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) during the 1st quarter of the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T stadium in Arlington, TX Saturday, December 29, 2018. (Photo: BART BOATWRIGHT/Staff)Buy Photo
SAN JOSE, California – Their final script has yet to be written, but the book on Clemson’s ultra-talented defensive line has been a pretty good read for the past few years.
Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are all expected to be NFL bound next spring, but their impact on the Clemson program should resonate for years, which begs the following question: Is this the best defensive line in Clemson history?
Yes, says ESPN’s Chris Fowler, even with Lawrence missing the game due to a failed drug test.
“Obviously without Lawrence it changes the equation a little bit, but what has always impressed me is you’ve got a collection of guys that really do feel like a brotherhood,” Fowler said. “They’re always supporting each other, complementing each other on the field. It’s a really unique group. They are from different parts of the country with very different personalities and the way they blend and mix speaks well for the overall culture at Clemson.”
Wilkins, Lawrence, Ferrell and Bryant have all earned All-America status during their careers, but Wilkins stops short of proclaiming this group the “best ever.”
Clemson defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence (90) and Christian Wilkins (42) bring down Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) during the 1st quarter of the Dr. Pepper ACC Championship at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. Saturday, December 1, 2018. (Photo: BART BOATWRIGHT/Staff)
“We’ve been really good and had a lot of success, but it’s funny when people ask me that because in my mind I don’t want to disrespect any of the guys who came before us,” Wilkins said. “Yeah, we’re really good, but you can’t tell me that Corey Crawford, Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Vic Beasley (in 2014) weren’t a lethal D-line.
“I’ve got so much respect for those guys and I honestly feel like because of those guys and guys who came before them – like Gaines Adams or Da’Quan Bowers – is the reason we’re here and the reason why we’re successful and work as hard as we do.”
Wilkins is right, because by any measure Clemson has a rich defensive line tradition.
The 2014 defensive line ranked first in the nation in total defense and tackles for loss.
The 1990 Clemson defense, which featured some talent as Brentson Buckner, Chester McGlockton, Rob Bodine, Vance Hammond and Levon Kirkland, led the nation in total defense and ranked second in scoring defense and rushing defense.
This year’s team leads the nation in fewest yards allowed per rush as well as per play and ranks among the Top 10 in numerous other categories.
“Clemson has always had great defensive linemen,” Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell said. “I go back to Dan Benish and the Perry brothers. There have been some great individuals, but as a whole I’d have to say this group is the best I’ve ever seen.”
Paul Myerberg, a college football writer for USA TODAY, concurs.
“There have been some lines with better individual players or performances, but none that compare to Clemson’s total package of depth, talent and overall production,” said Paul Myerberg.
Which unit is hotter right now: Clemson’s defense or Clemson’s offense? Manie Robinson and Barton Boatwright and Ken Ruinard and Scott Keepfer, The Greenville News
As a testament to the unit’s depth, Clemson’s defensive line didn’t miss a beat last week when reserve tackle Albert Huggins stepped in for Lawrence after he was suspended for the Cotton Bowl game against Notre Dame.
Fellow tackle Nyles Pinckney would be a starter at most programs, as would freshman defensive
end Xavier Thomas.
The only group comparable on a national level could very well be the 1989 defensive front at Miami.
“The 1989 Miami D-line was the best one I’d researched this summer when thinking about this Clemson group,” said Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports. “It was a loaded position room.”
Clemson defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (90) and defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell (99) stop Furman quarterback Darren Grainger (4) during the second quarter in Memorial Stadium in Clemson on Sept. 1. (Photo: Ken Ruinard / staff)
That Hurricanes team had two top three picks in Cortez Kennedy and Russell Maryland while Greg Mark was a first-team All-American and a third-round draft pick. Jimmie Jones, the backup defensive tackle, was a third-rounder, and defensive end Shane Curry was a second-rounder who went No. 40 overall, Feldman said.
Rusty Medearis redshirted that year and became a second-team All-American before an injury ended his career. Another defensive end, Willis Peguese, was a third-rounder and Kevin Patrick redshirted and later became a first-team All-American.
But in Clemson linebacker Tre Lamar’s book, the guys who have helped make his job easier this season are the best ever.
“For sure it is,” Lamar said. “Longevity and their consistency of performance on top being great personalities, great people, makes them one of the best defensive lines of all-time.”
Bryant says the Tigers have a final game to help determine how they’ll be remembered.
“That’s still to be determined – that will be finalized after the game on Monday,” Bryant said. “I’ll leave that up for y’all to debate. To say we’re the best in Clemson history is saying a lot, so I won’t say that. But after the game Monday, we’ll definitely have a strong resume.”