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June 8, 2011
Norm Chow had no idea he would end up as offensive coordinator at Utah.
"I had just re-upped at UCLA," Chow says. "We have a home there and that's where we planned on ending it all. Then Kyle [Whittingham] called."
Now Utah has one of the sport's most iconic offensive minds leading the way as the program moves into a new era.
Utah has left the Mountain West for the Pac-12, which also has added Colorado and expanded to 12 teams and split into North and South divisions. If the offense improves, the Utes have a good chance to win what looks to be a wide-open South. That's what makes Chow's arrival key.
The Utes finished fourth in the Mountain West and 52nd in the nation in total offense (389.0 ypg) last season en route to finishing 10-3. Aaron Roderick and Dave Schramm served as co-coordinators; both were retained
"Kyle called me about [Minnesota assistant] Tim [Davis] because Utah had a spot open for an offensive line coach," Chow says. "That's how it all got started. [Tim and I] both coached on that [USC] national title team and we both left to go into the league [NFL] at the same time. He went to Miami and I went to Tennessee."
Whittingham, who eventually did hire Davis to coach the offensive line, is glad he made the call.
"Norm's reputation precedes him," Whittingham says. "Everyone knows who he is and what he has accomplished. He has an extensive background and has done some very good things and at some very good places. All he did at BYU, NC State with Philip Rivers, the USC championships, Tennessee Titans. Talk about the quarterbacks he has developed along the way in addition to that.
"He is one of the most accomplished OCs in the college game."
Chow, 65, developed his reputation at BYU from 1973-99. He began calling plays in 1982, and two years later coordinated the attack that helped the Cougars win the 1984 national championship. During his 27 seasons in Provo, BYU went 244-91-3. Will Cougars fans be upset at Chow
"I don't know," Chow says. "I have been gone for quite a while. "My children say a lot is being said. I don't read all that business. I am of a different era, LaVell Edwards, names of the past that no longer are part of the scene. So I don't see it as a negative because I am of a different time, different era, group of coaches, different style."
Since leaving BYU, Chow has hop-scotched around the nation. He has been offensive coordinator at North Carolina State (2000), USC (2001-04) and with the Tennessee Titans (2005-07) before working the past three seasons at UCLA, a trying period for Chow that saw the Bruins post a 15-22 mark because of anemic offense. But Utah is home.
"I can look out the window of my office and see the area where my wife grew up," Chow says. "We lived in her parents' house while I was in grad school at Utah. And my first couple of years at BYU, we still lived there and I commuted back and forth because we couldn't afford anything else.
"I have come full circle. And not many people get to say that."
Chow has a lot to work with. The Utes return seven offensive starters, including quarterback Jordan Wynn, who missed the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery.
"Wynn reminds me of Ty Detmer," Chow says. "All of it
Chow began to add his touches to the attack in the spring. Utah had favored a spread attack, one that Urban Meyer installed while he was the Utes' coach in 2003 and '04. Now, it's much more of a pro-style attack and Wynn will be under center more often. There also will be more downhill running and play-action passing.
"I like it a lot," senior offensive tackle John Cullen says. "It's a whole different thing. I like the new style, with the downhill running, using a fullback, the pro-style offense and new techniques.
"The o-line, we aren't in two-point stances anymore; we are in a three-point, which changes a couple of things with your technique. And the quarterback is under center almost every play. We jump back in the shotgun every once in a while. It's like the same schemes but a completely different style. Every offense you are in, you are going to run zone plays and power plays, but the style differs."
One thing that had been a constant for Chow was strong quarterback play. Over the years, he has helped develop the likes of Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Detmer, John Walsh, Steve Sarkisian, Rivers, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. But his run of success ended at UCLA.
"Rick wanted to do things differently," says Chow, whose Bruins offense ranked last in the Pac-10 and 100th in the nation (316.7 ypg) in 2010. "He wanted more of a hand in the offense, which he certainly is entitled to.
"It worked out for everybody. Was he mad that I left? He said he didn't want to lose us, but he wanted to make some changes and probably is pretty happy it worked out like it did."
One thing Chow must add is consistency to the Utes' attack. The offense was hot and cold in 2010, particularly near the end of the season, when Utah lost three of its last five games.
"It's about enhancing the run game," Whittingham says. "With that will come a better play-action pass game. We want to play to Jordan Wynn's strengths, which are passing, not running.
"He is not a running threat. That is evident. The strengths he possesses will be the West Coast flavor of the offense of Coach Chow."
Chow is excited by the possibilities. But he is even more amazed to be in Salt Lake City.
"I almost laughed at the notion [of working at Utah]," Chow says. "We had just signed the new deal ... it was 20 minutes by car to the office. We talked for a bit.
"But it was an intriguing possibility. I had watched them play on television as an alum. Everyone roots for their team. And I said, 'What the heck.' And then I started remembering. I went to school here, got married here, my children were born here, the whole nine yards. But the finances had to be worked out. And it all worked out."