SALT LAKE CITY — Norm Chow took the scenic route. Down the freeway to BYU for a lengthy, successful run. Out to North Carolina and Tennessee long enough to smell the grits but not long enough to add a drawl. West to L.A.
And finally home.
"I took my wife to California and she said, 'Please don't ever take me back to the cold,' " he said. "But she's fine."
Chow made the move to his alma mater official Monday by meeting with media to discuss his newest job: offensive coordinator at Utah. Hey, second chances happen. Musicians, lovers and politicians reunite, why not Chow and the Utes?
Still, it was weird. There he was in the football offices on Guardsman Way, in a sweatshirt with a large drum and feather. It looked a tad out of place, like John Wayne in a suit. This is a guy who for more than a quarter-century didn't have anything in his wardrobe but BYU blue. He hasn't been part of the Utah program since his playing days, 44 years ago.
"As you get older, you think about things, about going home and that kind of thing," Chow said. "And it's just fun. Not many people get to see it come full circle and go back and coach at their alma mater. But to answer question, no, I never thought it would happen."
You have to hand it to Chow, the man has timing. He left BYU just as the dynasty was fading into the Gary Crowton blues. He stayed at North Carolina State long enough to coach future NFL starting quarterback Philip Rivers, then on to USC and the Tennessee Titans. He got fired at the latter, but it's not like he'd hit the skids. Immediately he was picked up by UCLA.
When coach Rick Neuheisel considered replacing Chow in the struggling Bruin scheme last month, Chow got thinking: 39 degrees in January isn't the worst thing on earth, even for a guy born in Honolulu. When Ute coach Kyle Whittingham called to inquire about another new assistant coach, Tim Davis, they began talking about Chow, too.
"He kind of lit a fire," Chow said, "and it all worked out."
As the Utes move to the Pac-12, it seems a good situation for both him and his new/old team. The Utes give Chow a new challenge in a place he is widely respected. (He helped beat Utah 20 times in the 27 years he was at BYU.) He likely won't ever have to pick up the tab on lunch.
Meanwhile, his name gives the Utes recruiting credibility in the Pac-12. While it's true UCLA struggled to a 4-8 record last year — just 2-7 in the Pac-10 — he has coached three Heisman winners and six quarterbacks drafted in the first round. He is a three-time national assistant coach of the year.
You don't get those credentials from a cereal box.
Even if Chow forgot all the plays he devised, it would have been a cagey move for the Utes. How many quarterbacks wouldn't consider playing for Chow?
Besides, he knows the Pac-10/12 like he knows the road from Orem to Provo.
As for what he'll do with Utah's offense, Chow isn't saying. Asked what it will look like, he replied, "I hope a good one. … If we're not a good spread team, we won't run the spread; if we're a good spread team, we'll run that."8 comments on this story
Ten minutes after he began, the questions ended. The cameras faded and it was down to real work for Chow. He ended the session by saying he had a coaches meeting but he might be back in 20, 30 minutes, if anyone wanted to wait. A number of reporters did.
"It's exciting," he said, "but you temper that enthusiasm because you understand what we're getting into is extremely difficult."
One thing was abundantly clear about the return of Chow: Winning in the Pac-12 could be hard, but getting recognized will not.