Norm Chow’s return to Provo is not so much of a novelty in itself anymore, considering his previous visits with three other schools.
Friday night’s episode is unusual, though. When he brings his Hawaii football team to BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium, Chow will have a dramatically different view of the place than ever before.
That’s because he’s a head coach now, coming back to the campus where he once imagined himself performing in that role. Yet by Chow’s account, his outlook will not be altered by any emotional factors — just a practical viewpoint.
“The sideline’s probably the worst seat in the house,” Chow said.
Whether he was coordinating offenses for BYU, USC, UCLA or Utah, Chow always took the elevator to the press box, offering nice vistas of the campus, “Y” Mountain, Oak Hills and, helpfully, the opposing defense. He’s adjusting to calling plays from the field, saying, “It’s not easy to see down there.”
That’s just one of many eye-opening experiences in his new role at age 66. Asked this week what has surprised him about the job description, Chow chuckled and said, “The whole bit. I mean, it’s a tremendous challenge, and I didn’t realize … after all these years what a head coach goes through.
“There’s so much that takes away from the coaching part of it. So many people rely on [his] making sure decisions are made in the right manner, both on and off the field to keep everybody going.”
Boiled down, that means he’s having to worry about the Hawaii defense’s allowing 69 points last weekend against Nevada, beyond the fact his offense scored only 24.
And that’s why Chow can say with a fair degree of honesty that his latest homecoming is way down the list of issues on his mind. “We’re struggling,” he said, “and we need to play well.”
Just the same, it is inconceivable that Chow could not have any extra feelings about this game, having finally become a head coach and returning to BYU. Professionally, the school gave him everything — and nothing. He was blessed to learn from the late Doug Scovil and other offensive coaches, and then Edwards gave him his own canvas.
Even with a young Mike Holmgren on the staff, Chow was the one calling the plays in 1983 when Steve Young quarterbacked the most productive offense in school history and in ’84 when Robbie Bosco led the Cougars to a national championship. Later, he would orchestrate Ty Detmer’s Heisman Trophy season in ’90 and direct the Steve Sarkisian offense that produced a 14-1 record in ’96.
If Edwards had retired at that high point, who knows how history would have changed. Instead, the program turned somewhat stale and it became evident that Chow (or any other assistant) would not be Edwards’ successor, explaining why he went to North Carolina State in 2000. That launched his series of moves in this century, eventually bringing him back to his native Hawaii. This job positions Chow to regularly face BYU in what he describes as “a different time, a different era” than his past life in Provo.
Sometime during the BYU-Hawaii series of this decade, the school should formally honor Chow for his work in helping build an attractive, nationally recognized program. It hardly is a stretch to say that without him, there’s no ESPN contract.
Regardless of whatever grudge may exist, Chow is gracious about his “very good experience” in Provo. He’ll get together Friday with friends and reprise their daily lunchtime jog of the old days, with this adjustment: “Now,” he said, “it’s a walk.”
Back in Provo
Norm Chow’s history in Provo as an opposing offensive coordinator:
Year School Result
2004 USC W, 42-10 Leinart, Bush led Trojans’ 527-yard effort
2008 UCLA L, 59-0 Bruins post 239 yards, trail 42-0 at half
2011 Utah W, 54-10 Utes score 40 second-half points
Norm Chow’s Hawaii staff includes three assistant coaches with Utah ties.
Tommy Lee, offensive coordinator • Ute assistant from 1995-2000, including three seasons as offensive coordinator.
Keith Uperesa, offensive line coach • Former BYU lineman; Ute assistant coach in 2004.
Lewis Powell, defensive line coach • Former Ute lineman; Ute graduate assistant/administrative assistant from 2009-11.