Norm Chow has been a big name in college football for a long time — much too big for much too long, it seems, for a guy who seemed destined to spend his entire career as an assistant. The theories have followed him as doggedly as his status as the man with the Midas touch for young quarterbacks: Maybe he's a bad interview. Maybe he's not interested in the public relations aspects of a head coaching job. Maybe he's looking for "the right fit," whatever that means. At a certain point, maybe athletic directors just lost interest.
Whatever the answer, today the question has finally been put to rest: At age 65, Chow is going home as the new head coach at Hawaii, pending a few minor formalities. And if any school meets his criteria for "the right fit," Hawaii has to be it.
The university is in Honolulu; Chow was born and raised in Honolulu, and started his coaching career there at a local high school. Hawaii has earned a reputation for throwing the ball around at a record pace; Chow has earned a reputation for throwing the ball around at a record pace. Hawaii is known for prolific quarterbacks; Chow has played sense more prolific quarterbacks than any college coach, most of them in an 18-year stint as chief play-caller at BYU that produced a national championship (1984), a Heisman winner (Ty Detmer) and two future Super Bowl winners (Jim McMahon and Steve Young). From there, Chow mentored true freshman Philip Rivers in his only season at N.C. State, groomed Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart into Heisman-winning, top-10 draft picks at USC and oversaw Vince Young's turn as Rookie of the Year with the Tennessee Titans.
Besides his age, two more substantial questions follow Chow to the islands. The first is over the job itself: As long as he's been in the game, Chow hasn't been a head coach since leaving his post at Waialua High and Intermediate School in 1972. The second is about that golden touch: As prolific as his offenses were over the first three decades of his career, Chow hasn't fielded an attack of any sort of note since being squeezed out at USC on the heels of the Trojans' 2004 BCS championship. Over the last two years, in fact, his offenses have been the worst in the Pac-10/12, finishing dead last in the league in total offense at UCLA in 2010 and dead last again this year at Utah. Since returning to the college game in 2008, his offenses have finished 111th, 99th, 88th and 110th nationally in yards per game.
At UCLA, he was stuck in a relationship with coach Rick Neuheisel that both sides admitted was dysfunctional, to the point that Neuheisel imposed a run-oriented "Pistol" offense over Chow's pro-style passing scheme. At Utah, his starting quarterback was knocked out with a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-October. At Hawaii, he'll be breaking in a new starting quarterback in a new conference, without very high expectations after the Warriors' disappointing slide to 6-7 this season. One way or another, Chow is probably going to finish his career in the same place he started it. He might as well get to do it his way for a change.