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Las Vegas • The rumblings and grumblings to remove Norm Chow as Hawaii's head coach might be building with the burning fire of an awakening island volcano, but if Chow is feeling the heat, he sure isn't letting on.
"It's part of the deal," he said with the same jovial type of response he used when he departed Utah three years ago to become Hawaii's head coach. "I realized the other day that this is going to be my 45th fall camp. When you've coached that long, you know what pressure is like, and no one puts more pressure on a head coach than the head coach himself. People want to win, I understand that, but pressure is self-imposed."
Chow acknowledges his decision to leave the Utes following the 2011 season was a difficult one and a gamble. Utah had just completed an 8-5 run and seemed to have a future in quarterback Jordan Wynn, a California boy who formed a strong connection with Chow. The two worked closely together following a shoulder injury that ended Wynn's 2011 season.
Yet, as the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant once put it, 'When Momma calls, you just have to come running.'
Chow, who is from Honolulu and still has family ties in the area, ultimately decided he couldn't pass up a chance to make his first head coaching job with Hawaii.
Unfortunately the undertaking has been even harder than he imagined, he says.
Hawaii has struggled on the field, season ticket sales have slumped to a 10-year low, with 18,194 sold for the 2013 season, according to the Hawaii Reporter, and the normally accommodating Chow canceled some media interviews following a disagreement with a local columnist who criticized his hiring of former Utah State linebackers coach Kevin Clune as defensive coordinator.
Chow later apologized for the incident, believing the criticisms of Clune were unfair.
"Having the responsibility of an entire program has been an eye-opening experience," he said. "It's still coaching and you still have your staff working hard, but it has been different after being an assistant for an awfully long time."
There are moments when Chow wonders where he and the Utes might be if he remained in Salt Lake City. He still chats with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on a regular basis.
However, he said he is determined to right the Hawaii program and prove the doubters wrong. Hawaii was picked to finish last in the MWC West division after the 1-11 mark in 2013, but Chow said he believes the Warriors can be better than that.
Chow hired Clune to revamp the defense that gave up an average of 38.8 points last year and also hired NFL veteran Kurt Gouveia to replace linebacker coach Tony Tuioti, who was dismissed along with Clune's predecessor, Thom Kaumeyer.
He also is giving more control to Wynn, who joined his staff as a graduate assistant and now serves as the quarterbacks coach and is calling more of the plays instead of Chow, who was doubling as head coach and offensive coordinator.
"It's hard to be both," he said. "I've talked about it with Kyle [Whittingham] since he tried it, too, and said the same thing. But Jordan is doing a terrific job. He has more anticipation and understanding of the game than most younger guys."
With his staff updated, Chow feels Hawaii should improve this year. If the Warriors don't, Chow understands the criticism may grow to the point his job is endangered. He is entering the third season of a five-year deal which pays him a baseline of $500,000, making him the highest-paid government official in Hawaii.
"I know the deal," he said. "It has been an adjustment for us, going from the WAC to the Mountain West, and expectations were high, but people don't care about that, they just want to win, and I understand that. We were all disappointed and embarrassed by last year, but we have a good group of guys who want to make amends for what happened last year."
The record certainly was dismal, with the lone win being over Army. Yet five of the losses were by a margin of a touchdown or less, perhaps signifying the Warriors aren't far away from success.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, improvements might not translate into immediate wins. The Warriors open the season with Washington, Oregon State, Northern Iowa and Colorado, a schedule Chow acknowledges will be difficult.
Yet he remains upbeat, as he has through everything else, .
"It's going to be a challenge, but we are going to remain positive and deal with it," he said.
Aggies still mum on trademark decision
O No word from Utah State on San Diego State's attempts to trademark the slogan "I believe that we will win," but Utah State football coach Matt Wells said the issue is clear to him. "I was at Navy when they first started that chant, but it was Utah State that made it what it is," he said. "We own it."