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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Norm Chow during University of Utah football practice in Rice-Eccles Stadium Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — As Norm Chow tells it, when he accepted the job as offensive coordinator at Southern California in 2001, his wife told him: "Please don't ever take me back to the cold."

Fine. Would Hawaii be OK?

After 39 years as an assistant coach, the Ute offensive coordinator has been offered the job as head coach at Hawaii, which makes entirely too much sense. He was raised in Honolulu, got his first coaching job in 1970 as the head coach at Waialua High.

Hawaii is a program that has had some wide swings, from mediocrity to the Sugar Bowl and back. In the last five years, it has gone 12-1, 5-7, 6-7, 10-4 and 6-7. The latter prompted the resignation of Greg McMackin.

So Chow has some work to do, but he's a natural. Who better to recruit the Islands and keep the players from going to Utah, USC, BYU and points beyond?

Is he ready?

He's been ready for 20 years.

Why Chow has never been a head coach has always been a mystery. He usually chalked it up to a variety of circumstances. He has been called difficult or egotistical, though it didn't show when he was being interviewed. He was usually low key and even slightly self-deprecating. But something didn't mesh with Rick Neuheisel, who would have demoted him at UCLA last year, had he not taken the Utah job.

Chow has appeared on other coaching lists and reportedly once turned down an offer at Kentucky. His name came up in the NFL, as well as at Stanford, North Carolina State and in a previous incarnation at Hawaii. He was mentioned after the Utes fired Chuck Stobart in 1984, but said he had no interest in coaching at a place that treated its coaches that way.

He probably figured the right fit would come along.

Who knew it would be 27 years?

Chow is 65, but that doesn't mean he can't relate to players. When you're a three-time National Assistant Coach of the Year, a former offensive coordinator for three national champions, and you've tutored three Heisman winners, people listen. Even 18-year-olds.

Besides, late career jumps can work out wonderfully. Chuck Daly was 48 before he even got an assistant's job in the NBA, yet went on to coach the original Dream Team and win two NBA championships with the Pistons.

If ever Chow proved his skills, it was during this season with the Utes. Some said that considering the offensive problems at UCLA, the game had passed him. Yet in certain ways he was exceptional at Utah. It's true his offense was statistically among the worst in the nation, 99th in passing and 82nd in rushing. But the Utes were playing without their starting quarterback. More than that, they were playing with a quarterback who was headed for Division II Nebraska-Omaha until it shut down its program.

Somehow they won four Pac-12 games and beat Pitt, too. Although they did it largely with defense, Chow simplified the offense enough that Utah got a few big plays in a few games to finish with seven wins and be bowl eligible.

Against Oregon State, Jon Hays completed just six passes, but two were for touchdowns. The scheme was clever enough that it also allowed running back John White to carry for 205 yards. Utah deftly mixed its attack against Arizona, as Hays passed for 199 yards, including a 65-yarder, and two touchdowns.

Hays completed only five passes against UCLA, but one was for a score. He nailed a 63-yard pass against Washington, a 46-yarder against Arizona State and a 44-yarder against Washington State. Some plays resulted in wins, others didn't. But those clearly weren't plays Hays drew up in the huddle; they were Chow's designs. In large part, it kept the defenses honest.

Mostly the plays happened because a receiver was so wide open that Hays could have hit him with an anvil.

So after assistant coaching stops at BYU, North Carolina State, the Tennessee Titans, USC, UCLA and Utah, Chow now has the reins. It's his program, his town, his chance. He's been waiting a long time to see what he could do with his own team.

Come to think of it, so have I.

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