LOGAN — Norm Chow stood alone on the sideline, the afternoon sun casting his shadow long across the field. Arms folded, then clasped behind his back, he watched as the deficit grew.
Surrounded by thousands, coaching can be a lonely place — and getting lonelier all the time.
In his second year as head coach at Hawaii, the former BYU and Utah assistant coach returned on Saturday to the state where he played college football and coached for more than three decades. But the lure of the islands and a head coaching position landed him in Hawaii, and the Mountain West Conference schedule brought him back.
A 47-10 loss to Utah State brought him to his knees.
OK, that’s a bit hyperbolic. A three-time national assistant coach of the year, there isn’t much Chow hasn’t done or seen. Even when things go as bad as they did on Saturday — including a 99-yard pick-six — he doesn’t overreact. He never threw his headset or stamped his foot.
Still, when you’re 0-8 it’s not exactly a day at Waikiki Beach.
In the third quarter, Hawaii intercepted to move deep in USU territory, only to cough up a 99-yard pick-six to Aggie linebacker Kyler Fackrell. Chow cradled his chin in the crux of his hand, then pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. Meanwhile, USU quarterback Darell Garretson set a freshman school record for passing yards (370).
“I don’t know. I’m too old for this. I’m way too old for this,” he said with a wry smile. “I had fun as an assistant. I don’t know about all this stuff.”
If ever there was a symbol of Hawaii’s misfortunes, it would have to be this weekend. The Warriors left Honolulu on Friday as part of a 10-day, 10,000-mile trip, covering two games. After playing USU, they were scheduled to move to Annapolis, Md., for a game against Navy.
The first hitch came in Los Angeles, where the team got caught in the delay caused by the shooting at LAX. The Warriors left the West Coast 12 hours later than expected and didn’t arrive in Logan until 12 hours before kickoff. Counting the time zone difference, it was a 16-hour setback.
From the look of things, the Warriors’ timing was off. Though USU scored on its first three possessions, Chow declined to blame the delays.
“Nope. No. No excuses,” he said. “We should have played better, should have picked up their blitzes better, should have covered better ”
No one could say Chow is naive. He was raised in Hawaii and knows the place is, well, an island unto itself. Recruiting is tough, even when it comes to keeping local kids home. Bigger schools often draw Hawaii’s best athletes to the mainland.
At 65 he got his first head coaching job, beginning in 2012. Since then, working in Hawaii has been anything but paradise. During last year’s 3-9 season, the Warriors lost eight straight, but improved with season-ending wins over UNLV and South Alabama. Yet this year hit him like a hard wave. The result was a string of losses stretching from Honolulu to Logan.
Recent failures don’t overshadow a brilliant career. After 27 years at BYU, Chow ventured out. He never did explain his reasons, except to say the timing was right. Some thought he would succeed LaVell Edwards in Provo, but administrative changes torpedoed that.
Chow ended up running offenses at North Carolina State, USC, UCLA, the Tennessee Titans and, in 2011, Utah. His last stop provided a glimpse into how good he could be. With starting quarterback Jordan Wynn out for the season, he modified his offense to accommodate backup Jon Hays, who hadn’t received a Division I offer. Surprisingly Utah won eight games, including the Sun Bowl.
When introduced to Hawaii media in 2011, Chow became emotional. Now there are other emotions to consider. He fired his offensive coordinator on the Friday before the season began. Even with Chow’s guidance, the Warriors came into the game ranked 89th in total offense and 106th in total defense.
His team looked every bit that bad against USU.
Chow spent part of his postgame remarks commenting on USU’s commitment to football. He noted the Laub Athletics Complex as evidence that Hawaii too needs to upgrade. Then the questioning moved to Saturday’s game against Navy and a long week in between.
Two days down, eight to go on his road trip.
Asked if it seemed a long time since he had coached in Utah, he simply said, “Oh yeah.”
The shadows were turning to night, yet for Chow the Saturday afternoons are becoming endless.
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