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Utah Utes football: Norm Chow has work to do at alma mater

Published: Thursday, Aug. 4 2011 1:30 a.m. MDT

Norm Chow's experience and knowledge of the Pac-12 Conference is expected to benefit the Utes, who begin fall practices this morning.   (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Norm Chow's experience and knowledge of the Pac-12 Conference is expected to benefit the Utes, who begin fall practices this morning. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Since becoming Utah's offensive coordinator in January, Norm Chow has patiently answered questions about returning to his alma mater.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be back here," Chow said earlier this week. "But it's awfully exciting. I'm blessed to be back."

The University of Utah is a special place for Chow. It's where he met his wife, Diane. It's also where he earned three letters as an offensive lineman and two degrees as a student.

Coming home, so to speak, after more than four decades of coaching elsewhere is quite meaningful to the 65-year-old.

Not many people, he acknowledged, are able to come full circle like that. It's brought back some sweet memories and made the upcoming football season even more special.

Norm Chow and Kyle Whittingham pose for a portrait in the Smith Athletics Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 1, 2011.  (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Norm Chow and Kyle Whittingham pose for a portrait in the Smith Athletics Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 1, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Time to reminisce, though, is short.

"All that ends because come Thursday, we've got to get a football team ready to play in a very, very difficult conference," Chow said.

Preparation for Utah's first season in the Pac-12 begins in earnest with the opening of camp. Chow's knowledge of the conference following stints at USC and UCLA is expected to benefit the Utes greatly.

So, too, is Chow's coaching pedigree and track record.

"All those reasons why we hired him are going to come into play this fall," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

Adding Chow to the staff, he added, was an opportunity to make the Utes better.

"We don't want to paint the picture that we've been bad on offense because we were pretty good on offense," Whittingham said. "We haven't had a year where we've just been awful on offense, but you're always looking to get better. You're always looking to improve yourself."

 (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Whittingham insists he wasn't looking for a new offensive coordinator when the opportunity to bring Chow aboard developed after things took a turn at UCLA.

"It's amazing how things unfold and what transpires," said Whittingham, whose father, Fred, coached with Chow at BYU and developed a friendship. Chow was also Kyle's first position coach with Cougars.

Since his arrival as an assistant at Utah, Chow has added some wrinkles to the offense — installing more of a multiple attack than the spread of recent years.

"Coach Chow is awesome," said quarterback Jordan Wynn, who quickly connected with him. "He's a great offensive coordinator, a great coach. I'm very comfortable in the system."

Wynn will line up under center more often, something he did in high school.

The offense, Whittingham noted, has been revamped a bit — not completely overhauled. Chow said there's no need to retool everything because the Utes have been awfully successful over the past several seasons.

"The biggest change is just getting under center a little bit more and that fits Jordan's style and that's what Kyle wanted," he explained. "So in that respect it's a little different. But the toughness, the attitude, all that's been here, it doesn't need to be changed at all."

Utah averaged 33.1 points and 389 yards of total offense last season, the program's third consecutive campaign with 10 or more wins.

"Why change something that's not broken?" Chow said while downplaying the media hype about the alterations.

"The scheme is not that much different. A scheme is a scheme, right? You pass protect and you throw the ball and you block a certain way and you run the ball," he continued. "These guys have done a lot of what we're doing. Again, the big change is (Wynn) getting under center a little bit more. We are going to be in the gun and we've got to protect this guy."

Wynn wasn't able to throw the ball in spring practices after undergoing shoulder surgery in December. He has since been cleared to do so, however, and has spent the summer increasing his range while getting 100 percent healthy.

Although Wynn will see limited duty early in camp for precautionary reasons, it's business as usual up on the hill.

"The preparation process goes on. Nothing changes in that respect. Our guys know our routine," Whittingham said. "It's all about hard work, attention to detail, focus, team chemistry, all those elements. Those are the overriding elements that make or break you."

Preparing for Pac-12 play has raised the bar even higher.

"It's a challenge, a huge challenge because we're going into a very difficult conference," Chow said. "It's full of great players and great coaches."

Wynn and the Utes are looking forward to it.

"I think as a team it's going to be all mental. We have scholarship guys just like USC has scholarship guys, just like Cal has scholarship guys," the junior said at last month's celebration at the State Capitol. "It's just going to be the mental grind of playing great teams week-in and week-out, but I think we'll be fine."

Utah opens Pac-12 play Sept. 10 at USC. The Utes kick off the season Sept. 1 at home against Montana State.

EXTRA POINTS: All camp practices and scrimmages will be closed to the public. ... Practice begins Thursday morning at the Ute Baseball Field. ... Linebacker Nai Fotu, who was suspended after a DUI arrest in February, will practice with the team. The senior has not, however, been reinstated to play in games at this point.

email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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