Chow Deserves To Be A Head Man

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 31, 2007
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While the NFL quietly basks in the glow of history - two African-American coaches in the Super Bowl - the league’s most over-qualified assistant is still being ignored.

Any mention of Norm Chow immediately brings descriptions such as “brilliant” and “offensive genius.” It’s probably the reason he was the highest paid coordinator in college football and now pulls in a hefty $1 million per on the pro level.

In a 2001 espn.com article by Wayne Drehs, USC head coach Pete Carroll gushed about this famed handler of quarterbacks.

“He is arguably the best offensive coordinator in the history of college football, certainly in terms of championships and wins and people he has coached,” says Carroll in the article. “He is not only a great attraction for us in recruiting and a great asset as a coach, but he allows me to do what I want to do.”


While it’s been speculated that the relationship had soured because Chow was getting too much credit for USC’s explosive offense, that’s pretty high praise from the most recent “best-coach-of-all-time.”

Normally, endorsements like that nearly ensure an assistant a top job somewhere else. But for three decades Chow has remained on the outside looking in.

Like many before him, he has moved on to the NFL in the hopes of greater opportunity. And though the pro game has moved at a snail’s pace in regard to minority hiring (six black head coaches among 32 teams), the NCAA progress has been positively glacial (seven out of 119 Div. 1A). Neither has an Asian head coach.

The whole idea behind the NFL’s so-called Rooney rule and groups such as the Fritz Pollard Alliance is to ensure that qualified minority applicants get every opportunity to succeed in their chosen field.

With that in mind, let’s compare resumes.

Granted, it’s dicey using an organization as dysfunctional as the Oakland Raiders for a litmus test, but with some shared history between the two coaches, it does provide a baseline for accomplishments.

Chow began his college coaching career three years before 31-year-old rookie Raiders coach Lane Kiffen was born. While Kiffen - who worked under Chow at USC - is young, he’s gotten things done. In 2000 he was the offensive line coach at Colorado State, and was the defensive quality control coach, whatever the hell that is, for the Jacksonville Jaguars. For the last two seasons he has been USC’s offensive coordinator.

Let’s check that against the former head man at Waialua High School.


Chow was the offensive coordinator at three universities (BYU, USC, North Carolina State) and one NFL team (Tennessee).

He coached three Heisman Trophy winners (Ty Detmer, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart), six quarterbacks taken in the first round (Palmer, Leinart, Philip Rivers, Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson) and one member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Young).

He’s won three national titles, coached in 27 bowl games and has garnered five national awards for best assistant coach or offensive coordinator.

Finally, he helped turn around a Titan’s team that began the season with uncertainty at quarterback to a near playoff team led by the NFL offensive rookie of the year.

All this, and the man seems no closer to running his own show than he was in 1973 as a graduate assistant at BYU.

At 60 years of age, time is running out on Chow. With the NFL in the midst of a young hiring trend, it’s going to be hard for any experienced coach to find a gig.

If Chow did find new employment this year, he would join the the NFL’s ever-shrinking ranks of the old guard that includes Joe Gibbs, 66, Marty Schottenheimer, 63, Tom Coughlin, 59, and Romeo Crennel, 59.

Another problem for Chow is that his last head-coaching gig was in high school.

But whose fault is that? This argument carries particularly no weight in the NFL. Of the five teams that have hired new leaders as of this writing, three have never been head coaches, while Arizona’s new man has all of four years’ head-coaching experience in college. Cam Cameron, the new Dolphins coach, was a blistering 18-37 at Indiana. And if there is any truth to the rumors of Chow being aloof, well, that would just put him on an equal footing with most highly successful coaches.

Is race the reason for Chow’s inability to get a job?

There are not many choices left once you go through the list. And while Chow has not specifically made a claim of racism, by all accounts it is what forced him to leave BYU after 27 years. The loyal assistant seemed to be the heir apparent to coach Lavell Edwards. He raised his family in the community and has a stellar academic background that includes a doctorate in educational psychology.

But all that was wiped away during a meeting in 1999 after a new vice president reportedly said in front of Chow, “We have all our Chinamen lined up, ready to go.”

An incensed Chow complained to the athletic director, after which the vice president responded that he didn’t know Chow was of Chinese ancestry.

Norm Chow deserves his shot. To make excuses for why it hasn’t yet happened is simply insulting.

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