During my time covering the Jax Seminole Club’s 2021 Kickoff event, I was able to sit down with legendary Voice of the Seminoles (and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) Gene Deckerhoff and ask him a few questions. I grew up in Colorado, where FSU games were scarce to find aside from nationally-televised matchups. My granddaddy used to mail me recordings of Deckerhoff calling the games so even though I was half a country away, I still grew up listening to him.
I dare you to read this interview without hearing his voice in your head!
NT&T: Gene, first question, the Tampa Bay Bucs just won the Super Bowl and FSU has got a new era continuing this fall. How are you, sir?
GD: Well, the new era began last year but we started under the COVID pandemic. So yeah, I think that, in all honesty, you can say this is the beginning of the Mike Norvell era because last year, you know, no spring practice, no offseason practice, you had to do everything via zoom, there was no face to face personal contact, and then you got a new offensive staff, new defensive staff and next thing you know, you fall under the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, so yeah, this is the first year.
First thing, stability coming out of all that. Mike Norvell made a comment the other day, that this is the first time in his head coaching career he’s had the same staff for two years. So that’s a good sign that he’s keeping them together and hiring great assistants. The second thing is if you look at the players that could have finished their eligibility, but you’re given that second, extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic. So nobody left, everybody gets to come back and play for Mike Novell, adding more stability. I think that’s a great sign. If you’re a football fan, if you’re a Seminole fan, that’s got to be one of the most positive things, that you can say everybody’s back and wants to play for him.
Plus, I don’t know how many other teams have double-digit players off the transfer portal, but I believe that coach Norvell may be the king of the portal, okay. David Coburn, Director of Athletics, told me that he had had a chance to meet all of the new transfer players. And he said, “from what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard, and having a chance to meet these fellows,(this is that we had nine at that time) I think all nine of those players will have a chance to play in the NFL.” So Mike has a tremendous judge of character and talent. He’s bringing in players and right now we have the number two or number one prospect in the country committed, so that’s looking pretty good.
NT&T: Oh, he’s number one. Believe that! His name is TRAVIS Hunter!
GD: So remember, Bobby Bowden’s “dynasty era” began when he recruited guys like Sammie Smith and Deion Sanders in the same recruiting class. That’s what it takes. And Mike is a non-stop, Energizer Bunny. I’ve never seen such energy, I mean, he holds camps all over the state of Florida. In fact, as we speak, he’s having his team practice in Jacksonville for two days. All those clinics for the kids. And I mean, everything he has done is been to build Florida State back to where it was.
Bobby Bowden’s first and only losing season was 1976. Bobby had won a victory over a ranked team that year when he went 5-6 and that was a road trip against Boston College, ranked 13 that year. Last year for Mike Norvell, one of the three wins was a victory over #5 North Carolina. Bobby did not win a home game over a ranked team until 1979 when he beat South Carolina. And I have a strong suspicion this year we’ll get four or five ranked teams going into the season from the ACC and from the SEC. But I think Mike Norvell will be a winner over a ranked team or two this year. A lot of folks think it could happen on September 5th, Notre Dame coming to Florida State.
NT&T: Are you one of those folks, Gene?
GD: * winks *.
NT&T: You’ve covered Bobby Bowden throughout his career. When you think of a younger Bobby Bowden, do you see any similarities with Mike Norvell?
GD: A lot of similarities. But the number one similarity is one, they’re both at the same height. HA! Second similarity, they both played offensive football, not defensive football, Bobby was a quarterback and Mike Norvell was a wide receiver. The third similarity, and I went to Bobby’s first press conference at Florida State when he took the job and left West Virginia, and I want to tell you what, he had a southern accent but he talked extremely fast. You almost had to have a translator. He talks so fast. And Mike talks fast too, that those are the three things that jumped out at me. They both just know so much and it shows how quickly they can explain it.
Another thing is that they both are very hard-working people, Bobby knew what it was going to take on that first press conference. He said, “I’ll tell you this, we’re gonna beat the Florida Gators.” You know what, he stubbed his toe that first day in the middle part of the season in 1976. But then he won four in a row. Yeah, ‘77, ‘78, ‘79, and ‘80. And he delivered on what he said.
And Mike is excited. He’s always excited. He’s always pumped up. He’s fired up. He has had great success everywhere he’s coached as an assistant coach and as a head coach. And his head coach resume at Memphis might be as good a head coach resume as you’ll see in college football. He has brought that to Tallahassee, and he was disappointed last year, you know, but that success comes when players want to win. And the job he’s doing getting them to believe is just phenomenal and great things are on the horizon for Florida State football. You know, after all, when you think about the talent level that had gotten so low, well, we still have some talent. But over the last two years, Florida State has had more players drafted by the NBA than the National Football League. Number one, GREAT JOB LEONARD HAMILTON!! But number two, what’s wrong with football? They have 85 guys each year while Leonard has 15.
NT&T: When I say “Coach Bobby Bowden”, what are three words that come to mind?
GD: Well, tried and true answer, but it’s Faith, Family, and football. Faith first, Family second, and football third. I know that he has been responsible for helping a lot of players, young players, and coaches, and people like me as a broadcaster, discover Jesus. I’m proud to say that I always felt I was a Christian from my childhood on up but Bobby convinced me that you’ve got to have Jesus in your heart. And that’s where he is, in mine. And I’ll tell you this, I’ll tell the story to the Jacksonville Seminole Club tonight. At 5:08 am on Sunday morning, August the eighth, Bobby Bowden left this earth. And at 5:09 on Sunday morning, August the eighth, he was explaining to St. Peter how he drew up that Puntrooskie to beat Clemson in 1980.
NT&T: That’s outstanding, I love it. Now, three words that come to your mind when I say “Coach Mike Norvell”?
GD: Coach Mike Norvell... energy, excitement, and determined. That excitement he’s brought to Tallahassee, his non-stop energy, and his determination to get FSU back on top the right way.
NT&T: For the Seminole fans reading this, anything else you’d like them to know?
GD: Well, I had the chance to be the honorary coach at the spring game. But let me just say this, we had the game plan, we had nine offensive plays, and we had nine defensive plays. All we had to do was call up to the booth, and we had a chance to look at those plays the night before the spring game. Well, we came down to the field of the spring game feeling confident. And when you’re on the field with those headphones on, and you’re talking to Kenny Dillingham or Adam Fuller, offensive and defensive coordinators, they’re up in the box. And you have to make that decision on what you’re going to do after this play. And then after this play, and then they’re telling you what’s gonna happen if you get it wrong. I have never had that experience. I’ve been a broadcast guy, having done like 660 NFL games, 517 College games, another 65 USFL games, something like that, you know, and I have never had that experience. You know, you just take it for granted. Football is a complex story. And it moves at the speed of light and you just have to tip your hat to those coordinators. Coach Norvell, he wanted us to do that and invited us to do it. It gave an old guy like me new appreciation for the work they do. And I think he was even more excited about us calling the plays than we were during that spring game. We gave him a good laugh, I’m sure.
Again, I want to thank Mr. Deckerhoff for his time and graciousness with me... and for giving me the opportunity to finally sit face-to-face with the man who helped shape my long-distance Seminole upbringing.