Doug Robinson: Norm Chow didn't learn from LaVell Edwards' example

Published: Tuesday, April 8 2014 8:43 p.m. MDT

Hawaii head coach Norm Chow, center, and the rest of the football team hold a moment of silence to honor running back Willis Wilson before the start of their NCAA college football game against Army Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Honolulu. Wilson apparently drowned early this morning while swimming at Sandy Beach on Oahu's eastern shore. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Eugene Tanner, AP

By the end of this column, I won’t be welcome at University of Hawaii football practices, if I happen to be in the neighborhood.

That’s because I’m about to write something “negative” about Norm Chow, Hawaii’s head football coach, who likes only “positive” stories, even after one-win seasons. Football coaches are not like car batteries, which require positive and negative to keep charged.

Chow recently threw a fit. During spring practice last week he ordered all media to stop interviews with players and coaches. Why? Because Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Dave Reardon was present. Chow reportedly yelled at Reardon that he was not welcome at practice — which had been opened to the public — and therefore all interviews must be stopped (Reardon volunteered to leave, but that didn’t change anything).

Chow, who later apologized, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he was angry about a column that Reardon had written that was critical of the coach’s decision to hire Kevin Clune, the Utah State linebackers coach, as defensive coordinator (even coaches with 4-20 records can’t be second-guessed).

Predictably, that backfired. Don’t like negative coverage? Then create more. Reardon’s column the next day ran at the top of Page 1: “Coach’s tantrum adds another loss to bleak record.” Talk about a gift for a columnist who is looking for something to write about during the dull spring season.

Chow of course is well known in Utah. He played for the University of Utah and coached at BYU from 1973 to 1999. He also coached at Utah in 2011. He was the offensive coordinator during BYU's glory years. When he didn’t get the head coaching job to replace the retiring LaVell Edwards he left in a huff, and all this led to was fame and fortune elsewhere — one year at North Carolina State; three years at USC; three years with the Tennessee Titans; three years at UCLA; one year at Utah; two years at Hawaii and counting.

As I read about Chow’s tantrum, I recalled two experiences I had at BYU:

Many years ago Chow and I were visiting in his office at BYU. Publicly, he had always said that he had the best job in coaching and that he was content as an assistant coach. But in private Chow yearned to be a head coach and this became apparent in our conversation. At one point, I ventured my opinion: Stick with an assistant’s job, I told him; he was too thin-skinned to be a head coach. He would hate it. I had been around him enough to know that he collected grudges against fellow coaches and media, and he dreaded talking to reporters. Why not do what he does best — run offenses? Why tempt the Peter Principle? Not all good assistant coaches make good head coaches. A head coach has to be able to deal with media and criticism and a lot of things that Chow doesn’t like and that have nothing to do with coaching, which brings me to …

The second thing I remembered: Years ago a certain reporter wrote a story that was highly critical of LaVell Edwards. I thought it was even a little mean. Yet the next day, during a practice at BYU, I saw Edwards talking to the reporter one-on-one, answering his questions patiently and acting as if nothing had passed between them. Later, when I found myself alone with Edwards, I asked him about this — how had he managed to treat the reporter so kindly and considerately? His answer went something like this: “I decided a long time ago that if I were going to hold grudges, it would get to be too much and pretty soon there would be too many to keep track of.”

Edwards always seemed above the fray, and that had its rewards. As columnist Lee Benson once noted, one of the remarkable things about Edwards is that, in an intense and competitive business where bad feelings were almost inevitable, he had no enemies. Even the coaches from archrival Utah liked him. As a result, Edwards didn’t have to worry about bumping into someone he had crossed, and he had nothing keeping him awake at nights. He also didn’t have to issue embarrassing apologies.

Chow didn’t learn this lesson during all those years with Edwards, but he has a lot of company. Many coaches never figure out what Edwards realized. The late Rick Majerus was always having a falling out with some assistant, reporter or administrator. Urban Meyer was the media’s darling, but when a reporter quoted one of his players (accurately) saying something he didn’t like, he went all tough-guy on him and, after giving him a condescending lecture, threatened to ban him from practice.

Nolan Richardson, the former Arkansas basketball coach, was the angriest, most disagreeable coach I ever met. He was even angry and confrontational immediately after winning the national championship. John Thompson and Bobby Knight pretty much spent their entire careers in bad moods and thought they were the smartest people in the universe. In the case of Knight, he is remembered more for his poor behavior than for the championships he won. Every coach (and athlete) should remember that.

What do these guys have to be upset about? Chow has made millions of dollars to coach football! He was among the highest paid assistant coaches in the country. For a time, he was the most famous offensive coordinator in the country. He won national championships and coached Heisman Trophy winners.

Despite his success, he has bounced around from job to job since leaving BYU (he reportedly had a falling out with his fellow USC coaches). After next season, it’s possible he won’t have to worry about media interviews anymore — just job interviews. Maybe he’ll look back and wonder why he didn’t enjoy his run while it lasted.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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