The name Norm Chow has a certain effect on football fans around here. To some, he's brilliant and wise and innovative and experienced, and to others, he's … well, experienced.
His 27 years of coaching offense at BYU still resonate that span riveted into the consciousness of those who watched Chow help LaVell Edwards' teams stay, at least for a while, one step ahead of defenses that sometimes didn't know what was hitting them. When the winning was regular, Chow was college football's version of Albert Einstein. When the winning dried up a bit, he was Lloyd Christmas. On occasion, he alternated from week to week.
After he left Provo, when broken promises made to him about following Edwards as head coach helped send him packing, he said: "We weren't forced out. It was obvious it was time to move on. We had stayed too long."
Chow was ticked about the way things went down back then, but looked into his rearview with a shrug. And burrowed ahead, straight into more extremes that have followed him through spectacular years at North Carolina State and USC, where he was the highest-paid and most highly acclaimed assistant coach in college football, and disappointing ones with the Tennessee Titans and at UCLA.
Now, it looks like Utah wants to hire the man of extremes as its offensive coordinator.
Overnight reaction: good move.
Chow may have struggled working under Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel, but that means neither that he has lost what made him so successful for more than three decades of coaching without a losing season nor that sophisticated new defenses have caught up with him.
No, the game hasn't passed him by. That's something of a guess, not having studied Norm's every decision over the past few years. I did have a fascinating conversation about football and life experiences with him during a stopover at an airport recently, and he seemed as sharp as he's ever been.
And Chow is smart. He's also clever, arrogant, stubborn, egotistical, cantankerous and a smart-aleck, and combined, those are the reasons I like the guy so much. There's no single coach with whom I've had more spirited back-and-forth firing off criticism and praise through the years than Chow. He's forgotten more about football than most of us ever knew, and he likely still knows what systems to run, what play to call and when to call it. I don't know the level of his motivation at this point in his career or how much real zeal he has left in his tank.
Those are wild cards.
"You need an imagination [to be a good coordinator]," he once told me. "I've learned from other coaches. … I still have folders of plays that I refer to when I get in trouble. And I've traveled around to various places, colleges and pro teams, every spring, trying to pick things up. But it's wrong for people to think this is so complex or unique. I'm not that smart.
"We have thousands of plays and there are a hundred different things we can do every game. It looks complicated, but we expect our freshmen to learn the basics of what we do in about two days. There are a lot of ideas, you're always trying to learn, always trying to do something different, but everything in football is copied from what someone else has already done. Nothing is unique. You just try to fit it to your players, into the talent your players have."
It's that last part that's intriguing about his possible coming to Utah.
Chow could help the Utes in their transition to the Pac-12, a league with which he is familiar and a quality of competition he can handle. He also would help the Utes develop their quarterbacks and find schemes that work for them, a skill no one can question, Chow having groomed three Heisman Trophy winners, along with a slew of other great passers.
This past season, the Utah offense rolled against bad teams and disemboweled itself against tougher opponents. At least a part of that was due to inexperienced leadership. Facing game after game of tougher opponents next season could be what's pushing Kyle Whittingham to bring in Chow now. Some wonder if having the strong-minded, strong-willed veteran OC on the staff with other coaches, including Whittingham, who were players at BYU when Chow coached there might be too overwhelming for them. In the case of Whittingham, that would be no problem, the head coach having been Utah's defensive coordinator when his father, Fred, worked under him. If Whittingham could manage that successfully with a presence as forceful as Fred, he can do likewise with the bullheaded Chow.
Assuming Utah's evolving and expanding pay scale can absorb Chow's salary demands, and he wants to coach there, the Utes would be foolish not to jump all over that if he's committed and driven to put in the time and effort necessary to advance not just the offense but the entire program.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.