Norm Chow Returns to the Coliseum Saturday to Make History


Norm Chow will enter the Coliseum on Saturday for just the third time as an opponent. The first two, in 2009 with UCLA and in 2011 with Utah, won’t be nearly as special as this go around however, and rightfully so, given the long journey Hawaii’s newly-appointed head coach has endured to get to where he is.

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Chow’s had an interesting career, to say the least. He graduated from Utah in 1967, then worked for 27 seasons under LaVell Edwards at his alma mater’s arch-rival, BYU. He was a passing guru, coaching every star quarterback for the Cougars, from Jim McMahon, to Steve Young, to Ty Detmer, to Steve Sarkisian. Coach Edwards got the glory, and the stadium named after him, but it was Chow that helped make it happen.

Chow was the no-brainer replacement to Edwards, but when the writing on the wall was apparent to say otherwise after a regime change within the university, Chow had to look elsewhere to ring in the new millenium.

In 2000, Chow joined forces with Chuck Amato at NC State, where he coached current San Diego Chargers signal caller Philip Rivers. But his stint with the Wolfpack was short lived, as his job of a lifetime opened up in 2001, when Pete Carroll was hired as USC’s new head football coach and needed an offensive coordinator.

In just four seasons at USC, Chow coached two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. His play calling in 2002 was stellar, earning him the Broyle’s Award for the nation’s top assistant. Again, he was on top of his game as an offensive coordinator and more than qualified to become a head coach.

With Carroll fielding offers from the NFL, it would have made sense for Chow to become the successor at USC, but again, the cards were stacked against him. Carroll spurned the NFL time and time again, and after going 13-0 in 2004, the fourth-year head coach decided to change things up and field a staff of up-and-coming subordinates, meaning Chow was once again on the outside looking in.

Ed Orgeron became the head coach at Mississippi and Nick Holt got his own head coaching job at Idaho, giving Carroll an opportunity to assemble youth within his staff. So in came Lane Kiffin and Chow’s former student, Steve Sarkisian, and out went Chow, quietly replaced and ultimately opting for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

Chow had high-profile job interviews for head coaching positions, but just never nailed it, as his dreams of becoming the first Asian-American head coach in college football started to drift away. He struggled in the NFL, and by 2008, he was calling plays for the much-to-be-desired Kevin Craft at UCLA.

And again, Chow’s poor luck and nice-guy attitude saw him lose out, as in 2010, Rick Neuheisel defied Chow, undermining him with the arrival of the pistol offense.

Chow had gone from coaching Heisman Trophy winners, passing record holders, first-round picks and being the most acclaimed assistant in the game, to being disrespected and having to call read-option plays for Kevin Prince.

The only way to pick yourself up from bottoming out is going back to your roots, and Norm Chow did just that in 2011, returning to his alma mater in the newly coined Pac-12.

Then, after Greg McMackin’s tenure in Hawaii ended, Chow’s opportunity to coach in his native state for the second time(he interviewed for the job four years prior) sounded too good to be true.

It wasn’t.

On Saturday, Norm Chow, the greatest offensive assistant in college football history, will finally get his day to lead a team onto the field.  He’ll become the first Asian-American head coach in major college football, while doing so for a state and university with overwhelming cultural ties, on the road in a metropolis with more than 400,000 Chinese-Americans.

Consider it the end of a long journey, and it’s only fitting that Chow’s debut comes across the field from one of his two successors at USC, Lane Kiffin.