Hawai’i knows that when it enters the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, the steady stream of boos from the sold-out crowd will be the least of the team’s worries.
USC is favored by close to 40 points with a potent offense capable of decimating an inexperienced Warriors squad. This isn’t the same Hawai’i of years past — there are no Heisman Trophy candidates like Timmy Chang or Colt Brennan capable of matching up against a BCS behemoth like USC.
Perhaps the Warriors’ lone hope for pulling off a colossal upset comes from their new head coach, a man who intimately knows the ins and outs of USC.
Norm Chow has been in college football for a very long time — 39 years to be exact. From 1973 to 1999 he served in various capacities at BYU, and eventually took over as the lead play-caller in the early 1980s, where he won a national title in 1984.
By the time Chow was named offensive coordinator at USC in 2001, his reputation as an offensive architect was well established. After capturing two AP national championships, Chow had forever cemented his place in Trojan history and everyone thought he had finally earned a head coaching job elsewhere.
Instead, he was snubbed by Stanford after interviewing for its coaching vacancy in 2005, which led him to accept an offensive coordinator position for the Tennessee Titans, where he was fired after the 2007 season.
He later went to Westwood to assume the offensive coordinator position with UCLA but faltered under the Rick Neuheisel regime. Though he built his reputation on developing quarterbacks, Chow was dealt a bad hand at UCLA, with the Bruins’ most talented quarterbacks regularly being sidelined with injuries during his tenure. Eventually, the Bruins negotiated a buyout of the final two years of his contract, paying him $1 million to coach somewhere else.
Chow then went to Utah in 2011 where an early-season injury to veteran quarterback Jordan Wynn severely hampered his offense’s capabilities. He then took the Hawai’i job for 2012.
His coaching career has been underwhelming since his glorious days at USC, and truthfully, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Norm Chow’s arrival at USC in 2001 couldn’t have come at a better time. Rising junior quarterback Carson Palmer had struggled for the last two seasons, and Chow’s new pro-style system helped Palmer reach his stride. The Trojans finished their 2002 season with an 11-2 record, and Chow certainly deserves recognition for his contributions.
But while Chow helped Palmer grow into a polished pro prospect, the future Bengal’s undeniable talent was bound to show on the field at one point or another.
Following Palmer’s graduation, Matt Leinart, another future first round pick and Heisman Trophy winner, took over. USC’s 2003 squad featured seven offensive players who would end up being selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, a reflection of the unusually high talent Chow had at his disposal.
By the time he had left the college ranks for a coaching stint in the NFL, Chow had worked with six quarterbacks who ended up being first-round selections. Depending on your perspective, that can point to Chow’s ability to maximize the talent around him or reinforce the idea that he was in the right place at the right time.
In truth, it’s probably a little bit of both, but his unsuccessful gigs after USC seem to suggest more of the latter. Case in point: The Tennessee Titans had a grand total of nine passing touchdowns in 2007, the year he was fired from the team despite a 10-6 record overall.
This isn’t about kicking Chow when he’s down. His accolades are no doubt impressive, and the hiring at Hawai’i makes sense when considering his hometown of Honolulu and the program’s desire to move away from the run ‘n’ shoot offense to something more traditional.
Chow won’t turn Hawai’i into a recruiting powerhouse, but he will attract attention from high school prospects because of the quarterbacks he helped blossom into NFL players. And he has started an important legacy, serving as the first Asian American head coach of a Division I program.
Altogether though, Chow’s shortcomings are still evident. BYU launched him into coaching stardom, further propelled by his success at USC. Since then, without the same level of talent that the Cougars and Trojans could muster, Chow has struggled to stay afloat.
The Warriors’ starting quarterback Sean Schroeder recently told the Hawai’i school newspaper, Ka Leo, that Chow is “an offensive genius.” His career path since 2005, though, might refute that bold proclamation.
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