USC’s Chow still
calls Hawaii home
Even after 30 years on the
mainland he recalls growing up
with UH coaches Ron and Cal Lee
LOS ANGELES >> Home will always be home no matter how far or how long you've stayed away.
USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow can answer without hesitation that Hawaii is a part of him, though he hasn't lived in the islands in three decades.
USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow says his Hawaii ties are strong.
"It's still home for me. My mom is still there," said the 57-year-old Chow, who grew up in Palolo Valley and prepped at Punahou. "There aren't that many job opportunities there, so we stayed up here. I married a gal from the mainland. We go over there at least once a year, but more like two or three times."
Chow, the father of four children (Carter, Cameron, Chandler and Maile), was in Hawaii most recently for his daughter's wedding. Maile was married on the North Shore last summer and is a teacher at Sacred Hearts Academy. Chow's son-in-law teaches at Kamehameha.
Though Chow has spent nearly all of his adult life away from the islands, there are still traces of his Hawaii roots. In a room full of scurrying reporters, his low, calm voice makes it seem as if he's talking story when he recounts his days at Punahou and being chastised by his friends' parents.
"I worked for Ron (Lee) and Cal's mom (Hazel) in the Punahou cafeteria," Chow said. "In high school, we had to work there. She would always scold us 'cause we always ate too much, but she'd never do anything about it. She'd pretend to get after us, but she'd give us a wink."
Getting into mischief with the Lee brothers was what the Chows did. Norm's eldest brother, Lenny, went to school with Tommy Lee, and Ron Lee attended Saint Louis with Mike Chow, the pilot for UH's charter flight to Los Angeles for tomorrow's game against the Trojans.
Ron said, "I don't want to say any funny stories about Norm when we were kids. I don't want to upset him right now.
"Our families go way back as friends, to the 1960s. Our parents were friends with each other too."
It's a relationship Chow hasn't forgotten and one that he knows will be unaffected by tomorrow's outcome when Hawaii plays fourth-ranked USC at the Coliseum. Chow and his colleagues will match their coaching skill with a UH staff that includes linebackers coach Cal Lee and receivers coach Ron Lee.
"We were friends first," said Chow, who played at Utah and earned All-Western Athletic Conference acclaim. "For the competitive games, you just have to move on afterward. It's just one game and it doesn't affect the friendship."
THERE HAVE BEEN many games for Chow, who coached at Waialua High School for two years (1970-72) after a knee injury ended his professional career as an offensive lineman. Chow went back to the mainland to pursue advanced degrees (he has a master's in special education from Utah and a doctorate in educational psychology from Brigham Young) and started coaching as a graduate assistant at BYU in 1973. He became the offensive coordinator in 1982 and has worked with a number of talents, including Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Robbie Bosco. Chow has coached six of the NCAA's top 12 career passing efficiency leaders.
It was never Chow's intent to stay as long as he did at BYU, but his devotion to his family and the stable, comfortable environment kept him there. Chow's youngest son, Chandler, 17, is finishing high school there, and every summer Chow commutes to Provo, Utah, where his wife and son live.
Chow's time at BYU didn't have to end, but he left after realizing a new administration didn't see him as a candidate for replacing former Cougar coach LaVell Edwards, who retired in 2000.
He spent one season (2000) as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at North Carolina State, where rookie Philip Rivers earned freshman All-America honors. After the Wolfpack's 8-4 season, USC coach Pete Carroll tempted him with an offer Chow couldn't refuse. Carroll believes the match was perfect.
"When you have a guy with that kind of background and that kind of record of success, it makes it really easy to trust that his side of the ball is going to be in order," Carroll said. "When we initially named our staff, I wanted to find a guy who would bring the confidence, stability and background. And it's worked out beautifully. Norm has been fantastic here. He's developed our offense. It is our offense. It's not what it was at other places."
Chow was a candidate for the Hawaii head coaching job that was filled by Fred vonAppen. But he said that within the first five minutes of his interview, he knew he wasn't under serious consideration for the position.
His desire to be a head coach is there, though it's not the focal point of his life.
"You work as hard as you can and whatever happens, happens," he said.
After USC's resurgence as a national contender last season, Chow was named the 2002 Broyles Award winner, given annually to the top assistant coach in the nation. It was his third such award (1993, 1996).
Chow was courted by several schools in the offseason but turned them down to stay with the Trojans. Carroll is convinced a head coaching position will happen when Chow wants it.
"I think he deserves to be (a head coach) and he will be whenever he decides to embrace it, and that's up to him," Carroll said. "Whenever he has the chance, I'm all over it. I told him that before we hired him.
"I told him it would take him two years at the most and he had a job after the first year. Somebody has got to hire the guy, he's just too valuable. He's too good."
BESIDES HIS lengthy resume, which includes guiding two Heisman Trophy winners (Carson Palmer last season and BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990), Chow's offensive mastermind instills confidence in his players. Going three and out is not a reason for panic with Chow calling the plays.
"Of course you want to make the most of any play, but we don't have to make the most of any play. (Coach Chow) might have a better play," said sophomore wide receiver Mike Williams. "It's fun to know that. If we get stopped, we would never get frustrated because he'll make an easy adjustment and we'll be successful.
"Besides the fact that he's a genius, he pays attention to detail. This past week he called that play-action play and I was wide open for a touchdown. He could've called that at any point in the game. Most people would've called that the second time we ran out."
Chow's play selection is what makes him an interesting adversary.
George Lumpkin, UH defensive coordinator, has coached against Chow often as a defensive position coach for UH while Chow was offensive coordinator at BYU.
"He's very challenging to coach against because his play-calling tendencies are very balanced. It's like he studied himself so that he wouldn't develop any tendencies that would give away what he's doing," Lumpkin said. "A lot of guys like to run on first down, throw on second and medium. They do certain things in certain situations. He has none of that and that makes him a great coach."
"With him, you just have to go with what you feel," Cal Lee said of trying to out-guess Chow in play-calling. "Nothing from what he's done in the past is going to help you figure him out."
Dave Reardon contributed to this report.