I'll start this with a quick reminder or clarification for new readers. I follow UCLA athletics very closely. I grew up in Southern California, have been a UCLA fan since I was a little kid and will always follow the Bruins. I have family that played basketball at UCLA, I maintain contacts within the school, and still attend UCLA events on occasion. I know the football program very well, and have watched (in horror) the struggles of Norm Chow with the Bruins.
Norm Chow is arguably the greatest offensive coordinator in the history of college football. His resume speaks for itself: three Heisman Trophy winners, multiple first round draft picks from the quarterback position, multiple national championships, and a reputation as an offensive genius. But why did Chow struggle at UCLA?
The talent was there as the Bruins have brought in three straight top ten recruiting classes, but UCLA couldn't move the ball consistently or put up points. The offensive deficiencies of 2008, 2009, and 2010 are not all on Chow. Injuries to quarterbacks were the biggest issue as UCLA's third string quarterback started all of 2008 after losing their top two QBs in spring ball. The offensive line was ravaged with injuries, academic casualties, and players departing for missions, particularly in 2010. This contributed to many of the struggles offensively, but when injuries happen, players miss time, and things are going the way you want them to, you make adjustments. That didn't happen, and that's on Norm Chow.
The pro-style offense that Chow is famous for couldn't get a running game of any kind going in his first two years at UCLA. Chow and Neuheisal collectively, and let me reiterate that word….COLLECTIVELY, approached Nevada coach Chris Ault about the pistol formation and how to run it. The two of them spent a few days learning the system together before deciding that with the collective talent on the roster, this was the best system to use to jumpstart a stagnant running game. While UCLA improved from 94th to 44th in rushing from 2009 to 2010, their passing attack was non-existent, dropping all the way to 116th in the country, ahead of only the three service academies and Georgia Tech. All four of those teams run an option attack and rarely pass the ball. Generally, if you can't pass, you can't run. If you can't run, you can't pass. Norm Chow needed to fix that, and he couldn't.
Do I like this hire? Yes, but only from an off the field standpoint. The hiring of Chow brings more credibility to an already soaring program that needs more recognizable faces as it moves into the glitz and glamour of the Pac 12. It will pay dividends in the recruiting world, as players know of Chow's reputation and want to play for him. I saw it first hand at UCLA as he and Rick Neuheisal were able to bring in those three straight top 10 recruiting classes. Chow will, without a doubt, help the Utes make strides in recruiting. He himself is not a tremendous in-the-living-room-recruiter, and it is widely known that he doesn't care much for the process. But his name alone will always be a draw, even if his offenses continue to struggle.
Is it an out of this world hire? No. Not even close. The on the field aspect of this concerns me more than anything else. I'm not convinced that Chow still has what it takes to run an effective offense. His stubbornness at times and inexcusable lack of creativity were dumbfounding. Does this sound familiar? As Utah got into the meatier part of their schedule in 2010, they often found themselves playing from behind and struggled offensively. Yet a lack of creativity and unwillingness to change up the game plan on the fly ultimately doomed them in games against Notre Dame and Boise State (The TCU game was a forced passing situation from by the second quarter on).
Thoughts within the UCLA camp are that Norm Chow isn't where it used to be and needs to be for him to be an effective offensive coordinator. If you watched UCLA this year, you might wonder why they called unexplainable timeouts. It was because Chow called the wrong play out of the wrong formation. That is inexcusable from a coach. It got so bad with Chow that Coach Neuheisal had to take the play calling duties out of his hands. Not something he wanted to do, but he really had no choice. What did UCLA's offense do once Chow stopped calling plays? They responded with their best offensive showing of the year against a stout Arizona State defense. Add all of that to the fact that his approach and scheme are now dated and you've got a big problem. College football and the offensive schemes, in particular, have been evolving at a rapid rate for the past decade. Everyone is trying to find something new, something different, something better. Norm Chow has not evolved with the game. His unwillingness, or maybe at this point, inability to adapt has left him behind, and UCLA struggled because of it.
Is this a good fit for Norm Chow? It's a better fit than UCLA was. Rick Neuheisal is an offensive guy who's had success and was always standing over Chow's shoulder. It was a bad idea from the beginning, although the UCLA fan in me loved the thought initially. This is a much better fit at Utah alongside Kyle Whittingham, but I'm not sure this is the right fit. I don't know if a right fits exists for Norm Chow anymore.
I know this is not what Ute fans want to hear. I know this is not what they want to believe. Maybe I'm a cynic because I'm seeing it through the eyes of a Bruins' fan; bitter about the offensive struggles over the past three years and not getting out of Norm Chow what everyone in Bruinville anticipated when he was hired. I hope I'm wrong about Chow. I hope the UCLA stint was just a blip. I hope he finds the magic that he displayed for years at BYU, NC State, and USC. I hope this works for Utah and Chow can regain some of the swagger that he had. You used to know what you were getting on the field with Norm Chow, but not anymore. All we've got now, is hope.
Norm Chow to Utah- Analysis
Ute Zone Top Stories
Film Room: Utah vs. USCUteZone breaks down the biggest plays in Utah's win over USC.
Ute ZoneYesterday at 11:16 PM
UteZone Roundtable: 9/25The UteZone staff talks about Utah's big win over USC, what we've seen from the Utes so far this year and what to expect against Cal.
Ute ZoneSunday at 8:50 PM
Position Grades: Utah vs. USCSteve Bartle grades each position group following Utah's big 31-27 win over USC.
Ute ZoneSaturday at 1:09 AM
Video Recap: Utah vs. USCUteZone's Michelle Bodkin recaps Utah's thrilling win over USC Friday night.
Ute ZoneSaturday at 12:39 AM