What is Jay Norvell’s ethnicity? The coach’s African-American roots

Jay Norvell

Coach Jay Norvell’s unprovoked jibe against rival coach Deion Sander backfired badly as the Colorado State lost the high-flying Colorado Buffaloes 43-35 in double overtime. Norvell said after the game that there will always be bad blood between the team, regardless of what he says or doesn’t say. “This rivalry has been going on way longer before I got here and it’s going to be going on way after I leave,” he stated

Jay Norvell is African American, born to Cynthia and Merritt Norvell

Jay Norvell was born on 28th March 1983 to African-American parents Cynthia and Merritt Norvell. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, alongside his younger brother Aaron. 

Norvell and Aaron followed their father’s example, playing Big Ten football at Iowa and Wisconsin, respectively. Aaron became an actor after college, appearing in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, General Hospital, and The Last Ride, among others. Norvell played one season in the NFL with the Chicago Bears before venturing into coaching. 

Merritt was a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusivity. He was the first African-American athletics director at Michigan State University. For many years, Merritt was the executive director of the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development, which endeavors to educate and advocate for minority coaches. 

After Norvell’s appointment as the first black Nevada football program head coach, Merritt told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the key to improving diversity among college football coaches is improving diversity throughout the entire hierarchy. He explained:

“It’s kind of a trickle-down because most of the decision-makers are not minorities, and most decision-makers make decisions about people who are similar to them. That’s just in every business. That’s pretty much the biggest reason. There are a ton of really qualified minority coaches.”

Norvell told the outlet that programs pretended to interview minority candidates. “That becomes frustrating as a candidate because you don’t want to go through the process unless you’re being taken seriously,” he said. 

Cynthia, Norvell’s mother, was also a valued member of the black community. She died on the eve of the 2019 college football season. “My mom was just very thoughtful, very mannerly. … She volunteered a lot; did a lot for the community. She had millions of friends,” Norvell said after his appointment as CSU coach. “I think the social aspect and the personality that I have probably comes mostly from my mom.”

Merritt passed away on the eve of the 2020 season. Tributes from throughout the football community highlighted Merritt’s outstanding work as an advocate for minorities. Norvell said:

“My father was a great man. He came up in the late ’60s, and my father was on the Wisconsin campus when Muhammad Ali was traveling and speaking on college campuses; when Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were speaking; he was the point person (for those speeches). He was a giant in athletic administration, so I’ve spent my life trying to fill his shoes.”