LOS ANGELES — He still has his golden Southern California tan, set off nicely by distinguished graying hair. The crowd of reporters surrounding "Hollywood" Norm Chow at daily practice is every bit as large as the one for head coach Kyle Whittingham.
There is no more celebrated assistant coach in college football than Utah's offensive coordinator. So as the Utes prepare for Saturday's game against the USC Trojans, Chow — a former Trojan coach — endures the teasing.
"Razz him? Always," says offensive line coach Tim Davis, who spent three years as a USC assistant alongside Chow. "He razzes me, too. I call him Hollywood Chow."
Silly, but the comparison isn't far off. In football terms he's a DeNiro, Brando, Nicholson. Roll the credits: three-time national Assistant Coach of the Year; coach of three Heisman Trophy winners and six first-round NFL draft picks; top assistant coach for UCLA, Tennessee Titans, USC, North Carolina State and BYU.
Despite problems at UCLA, his most recent stop before Utah, Chow has been coaching royalty since he became quarterbacks coach at BYU in the mid-1980s. Fans gave him much of the credit and almost all the blame for the passing game when he was there.
Yet through it all he has maintained a self-deprecating humor about his status, combined with just the right amount of, well, theatrical timing.
Asked about the nickname, he pauses for a few beats and says: "Hollywood? An old man like me? I'm lucky to be alive."
At the same time, he admits he knows people in L.A. "You name it. Will Ferrell, Snoop Dogg … everybody. They're all out there," he says. "Wait 'til you get there. You'll see them all."
It's true. Henry Winkler, Jake Gyllenhaal, George Lucas, Levar Burton and Nick Lachey have often been spotted at Trojan games. Other celebrities show up periodically, looking for a place to be seen.
"Just like a Lakers game," Chow says.
He will naturally be there Saturday as the Utes play their first-ever Pac-12 game. But he's not just around for window dressing. He'll be directing the Utah offense, one that was good only in the first half against Montana State.
"He has complete autonomy on offense," Whittingham says. "You don't hire a guy like Norm Chow and say, 'Here's what you're going to do.' You bring in a guy like that to do what he's been doing for a lot of years … it's Norm's show."
Interestingly, Whittingham didn't call it a responsibility, assignment or a duty. He called it a show.
How better to describe Chow's world?
"Norm Chow is an icon in college football. What can you say?" Whittingham says. "He's been to a lot of great places and done a lot of great things, but yeah, I can razz him a little bit about some things — but I usually don't."
While handling media is routine for Chow, Whittingham is only now getting comfortable with that duty. Originally guarded and businesslike, he now occasionally jokes with the press. Asked if he's going to ask Chow to introduce him to some of his celebrity friends, Whittingham says, "I don't know, who are those guys?"
Will Ferrell and Snoop Dogg, he is told …
"If it's Reese Witherspoon, he can introduce me," Whittingham says, then adds with a chuckle, "My wife will kill me."
But there is a dark side to USC's glamour. The Trojans are on NCAA probation for recruiting violations, making them ineligible to win a championship. Still, it's the Trojans: 11 national titles, six Heismans, the famous white horse, Tommy Trojan, John McKay, John Robinson, Pete Carroll.
Hence, the Utes aren't playing an opponent on Saturday, they're playing a cinematic experience. Even the game lengths are roughly the same as epic movies like "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Gone with the Wind."
Chow approaches Saturday with a careful mix of confidence and respect, talking first of the historic feel of the stadium, but adding that Utah's opponent is still just "a guy in a different colored jersey."
Offensive tackle John Cullen suspects the game means more to Chow than others.
"Coach Chow is probably one of the most intense guys this week. These last two weeks he's gotten in there and got fired up, so there's no joking around this week with him," Cullen says. "He's fired up about this game."
Why wouldn't he be?
Hollywood Chow returning to Hollywood is a movie just waiting to happen.
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