SALT LAKE CITY — When Norm Chow left BYU after the 1999 football season, it was like losing a tree in the yard. He wasn't LaVell Edwards, in terms of visibility, but his roots ran deep. He was a lifer, or so it seemed.
But when word got out he wasn't going to be named Edwards' successor, he was unhappy, since he had reportedly been told otherwise. So Chow said Ciao! to BYU.
At 54, he was moving on.
Eleven years later, he's as transient as a carnival. His coaching resume goes like this: 27 years as an assistant coach at BYU, one year at North Carolina State, four at Southern Cal, three with the Tennessee Titans, three with UCLA. Now he's on his way to Utah, having been named the Utes' offensive coordinator, Saturday.
He had one job in his first 27 years of college coaching and is now on his fifth job in the last 11 years.
"How many people get to go back to their alma mater?" he said. "This is an exciting day for me."
On one hand, it's perfectly symmetrical for him to return to the school where he played from 1965-67. On the other hand, it's the school he disdained for most of his career. But the Utes are looking to revitalize an offense that died in the second half of the season, and Chow needed a way to exit L.A.
Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel, who once said of Chow, "If anybody in college football has done better, I'm not aware of it," apparently had a change of heart.
On Saturday, Neuheisel hired San Francisco 49ers assistant Mike Johnson, which would have meant a demotion, dismissal or resignation for Chow.
Meanwhile, the Utes acquired the man often called the finest offensive coordinator in college football. If he keeps his current salary of more than $500,000, he'll also be among the richest.
Such are the vagaries of life. For years, he was as steady and reassuring as Mt. Timpanogos; then he discovered the joys of transiency.
The first sign of his shift from company man to hired gun came when he stayed just one year at North Carolina State before jumping to USC. Four years later, he left the Trojans for the Tennessee Titans. It's true he doubled his salary, but he had chances to do that before, when other coaching jobs opened.
His profile hasn't kept him from friction along the way. Reports — which he denied — said there was conflict with USC coach Pete Carroll. Chow changed his address to the NFL, but three years later was fired. That's when he moved on to UCLA, where he has been since 2008. Stories said he and Neuheisel disagreed on a plan to switch to a pistol offense, hence the Bruins' decision to make a coaching change.
Chow has always been enigmatic, both friendly and occasionally standoffish with the media. Small wonder. At times he — not legendary coach Edwards — got blamed by fans for certain so-so seasons (BYU went 6-5, 9-5 and 8-4 in Chow's last three years). When BYU played at USC in 2003, he largely avoided the media prior to the game and only briefly talked in a press conference post-game.
In any event, he has remained a commodity in demand. The jump to Utah only adds to the Chow mystique. With the Utes moving to the Pac-12, what could be better than to hire a man who has coached at two of the conference's top schools? What could be more appropriate than finishing his career at the school where his football began?
Assuming Chow hasn't forgotten what made him the coach of six first-round NFL picks (including three Heisman winners), hiring him is a major coup. The onetime stick-in-the-mud is again on the move.
Which makes for a nice, tidy storyline: After all these years, the wanderer comes home to roost.
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