USC's Chow doesn't need to move on -- he already has the best gig
Posted: Wednesday December 3, 2003 11:32AM; Updated: Wednesday December 3, 2003 12:26PM
By Luke Winn, SI.com
In James Joyce's Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus tells his students that a certain Irish pier is a "disappointed bridge." Is every assistant coach, by nature, a disappointed head coach? Or can a man be content to be the best assistant in the nation?
At USC, Norm Chow is in charge of one of the nation's most feared offenses, a unit that will only get scarier as the Trojans stockpile five-star recruits. Under his tutelage, Ty Detmer and Carson Palmer have won the Heisman; this season, two more of his products, Matt Leinart and Philip Rivers, may be invited to New York. Chow is widely regarded as the best offensive coordinator in college football.
But at the age of 57 and in his 30th season of college coaching, should he be content with life as a coordinator, even if his team is on track for the Sugar Bowl? Does Chow still have much to prove, or does he have it made?
It's understandable that, with his decorated resume, he would welcome the challenge of a bigger gig: In 27 years at BYU, one at N.C. State and three at USC, he has coached six of the NCAA's 12 most efficient career passers, and his teams are responsible for 11 of the NCAA's top 30 single-season passing yardage totals. What's unfathomable is that he isn't a head coach already.
Chow has reached guru status in the coaching community as a master of the passing game, a coach who was able to successfully adapt his air-it-out style to fit Pete Carroll's balanced system at USC. Chow has relative autonomy over the Trojans' offense -- Carroll's specialty is defense -- but he's still a guru who has to report to a boss. A head coaching job in the Pac-10 seemed like a reasonable possibility when Arizona came knocking in November, but the Wildcats selected Oklahoma assistant Mike Stoops. How close Chow was to landing the job is unclear. "They just told me they decided to go another direction. I could've been second, I could've been last," he said. Duke may be his next suitor, but he hadn't been contacted as of Tuesday.
If he ends up making the jump, Chow would become the first Asian-American head coach in Division I-A football, the minority of minorities in a sport with just five black head coaches out of 117. He won't say it outright, but he's clearly not resigned to being a lifetime assistant -- he's just not the type to campaign for jobs. Chow managed to stay at BYU for an unprecedented 27 years. "I don't go out looking," he said. "If the chance comes, it comes."
If Chow never assumes the title of head coach, however, his career should not be deemed any less of a success. In fact, at USC, he already has the best job in college football. That's right, as an assistant. The O's in his playbook are executed by the nation's best offensive weapons; his Trojans are shaping up to a be a top-five staple for a decade; all the while, he gets to live in sunny Southern California without having to bear the intense pressure of being the man in charge.
At Troy, Chow is free to do what he does best: be an offensive wiz. And he's making top dollar doing it -- his wage, reportedly around $500,000, is No. 1 among the nation's assistants and more than some head coaching salaries in I-A. He's quick to credit Carroll for creating an atmosphere that's "fun" to be around, a strong word from a man who openly acknowledges that major-college coaching is more stressful than it is enjoyable.
The evils of the current head coaching climate, in which Frank Solich was fired after a 9-3 season, Tommy Tuberville was betrayed by his own administrators and Walt Harris came under fire after being within one game of a BCS bowl, has to make Chow think twice about leaving Carroll's college party, which is only getting started. It doesn't seem advantageous for Chow to take on a head-coaching "project" where, after four or five years, he could get run out of town, when he has a virtual guarantee of gunning for national titles in L.A.
Still, you can't fault the man who has it all, yet desires a fresh challenge. Chow reminded me that even in departing USC for a team with a bleaker future, one is still "trading an assistant's job for a head coaching job. And the only jobs that really open -- unless the guy retires, which is rare -- do so because there's been a problem. So can you really get a great job?"
You can, if you stay at USC, as the nation's best assistant with the nation's best gig. There's absolutely no disappointment in that.
My 6-6 Northwestern Wildcats look like prime candidates for the Motor City Bowl (head to the train station for the 3:45 to Detroit Rock City ...). Meanwhile, 70 miles west of Evanston, 10-2 Northern Illinois will probably stay home for the postseason. Huskies coach Joe Novak has made it clear that this is nothing short of B.S. In NU's defense, it has beaten two bowl-eligible teams (Kansas and Wisconsin), while NIU has beaten just one (Maryland). In Novak's defense, it probably is B.S.
Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle told the Palm Beach Post that Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said to him during Saturday's game, "Will you lay off the coverage and let me catch some?" The 'Canes were nice enough to acquiesce in the fourth quarter, with the game in hand, when Fitz extended his consecutive games-with-a-TD streak to 18 on a play that Rolle called a "cheap" pick route. A similar plea for mercy was made by Stanford in the fourth quarter of its game against Notre Dame on Saturday, with the Cardinal trailing 57-7. It was met with ... a fake punt.
Here's a quote from a man of principle ... who also might be a little presumptuous. I-AA Northern Colorado head coach Kay Dalton, fresh off a 9-2 season, says he wouldn't work at Nebraska, which he called a "crazy organization," where "they fire a guy that's got a 9-3 record and got them into a bowl." Quick, Pederson, tear up that offer sheet.
Here's where The Beat's readers have their say.
This week's question: We did this last year, and it went over relatively well ... With bowl season right around the corner, tell a good story from a bowl trip, whether you mooned a crowd of unsuspecting Husker fans or never actually made it into to the stadium in Tempe. Be concise -- no more than two paragraphs -- but please, be funny. (Note that this is the last regular-season column; these answers will appear in a bowl edition in late December.)
Last week's question: Is Philip Rivers or B.J. Symons being shafted in the Heisman race, or are the right folks (Jason White, Larry Fitzgerald, Eli Manning) at the top of the lists?
I feel like Philip Rivers is getting a raw deal. The man has taken his team into Ohio State and Florida State and lost the first game by an inch and the second on a missed extra point. Is that HIS fault? If those two games turn out differently, this isn't even a discussion. All he did was lead his team to 38 and 44 points on the road against two powers while at the same time put up incredible numbers all year long. The Heisman is an individual award, not a team award. He has played in an outlandish 50 STRAIGHT games and completely turned the expectations of NCSU football around. His numbers are also much better than Eli Manning's anyway. If Eli's last name were Smith or Jones, he would have as much chance at the Heisman than I would. Philip is the best player in the country. He should be recognized as such.
Philip Rivers has started 50 consecutive games, set every single ACC passing record, will move into second all time in offensive production in the NCAA and has statistics and numbers that DWARF the nearest competition. Couple that with having to play with one of the worst defenses in NCAA and you take the defending national champion into triple overtime at the Horseshoe and contend for an ACC championship. He deserves the hardware. Let's do the right thing here and give the right player the trophy for a change. He is without a doubt the best player in college football today. No question about it. He's getting the big-time shaft.
Philip and B.J. are definitely getting the shaft. The Heisman has become an award for the best player on one of the top 10 teams in the country. That's crap. The Heisman is supposed to go to college football's best player. What kind of team would OU be with a Philip Rivers? How good would Ole Miss be with Philip Rivers? N.C. State's running game has been nonexistent for most of the season. The defense has officially been in the basement all season. Philip has single-handedly taken the Wolfpack to where they are right now, which is vying for second in the ACC. If Philip and B.J. are not at least considered for the Heisman, the award will officially become a bigger joke than Al Sharpton's presidential campaign.
To win the Heisman you either have to be a special player or win some big games. If B.J. Symons were putting up his numbers in a more traditional offense, then he'd definitely be a special player. As it is, he's in a statistics-friendly offense in which a lot of athletes would put up similar numbers. Remember Ty Detmer's award came in a down year -- and it was more of a career achievement award not only for Detmer but for LaVell Edwards and his BYU program.
As far as Philip Rivers goes, the guy's a four year starter who didn't win a meaningful game (his much underappreciated predecessor beat FSU too), a conference title, or make his program better. That Peyton Manning and Tommie Frazier did all three and still didn't win the award shows why Philip Rivers should feel gratified to even be invited to the ceremony.
I think Philip Rivers is the best college football player in the nation this year. He ranks No. 2 in the country in completion percentage, No. 2 in passing yards and has thrown 29 TDs vs. only six picks. No other QB boasts such consistent stats in every category. If you look at his career stats (which voters definitely do), he will finish his career as the only QB to ever start 50 consecutive games (and it will be 51 with the bowl game), he is No. 2 in the NCAA all time in total offense, 13 yards shy of being No. 2 in the NCAA all-time in passing yards, and 5th in the NCAA in TD passes for a career. He owns just about every ACC passing record and that includes FSU's Heisman winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke and Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton, who was in contention. And amazingly enough, the best thing about Rivers' game doesn't even show up in the stat sheets. Besides being a fierce competitor and an excellent leader, he is an absolutely class act. On and off the field he has carried himself with the maturity of someone you want to cheer for. Will he win the Heisman? Probably not, but he is more than deserving of the award, and I can't think of anyone else that I would have rather cheered for (or played with), over the last four seasons than Philip Rivers.
The right folks are at the top of the list. Jason White deserves the Heisman (this coming from a UT Longhorn). Eli Manning is a far second -- and Larry Fitzgerald is not involved in enough plays to qualify (besides, Roy Williams is a better receiver and will be drafted far ahead of Fitzgerald). Rivers and Symons-type QBs have to win more big games nationally to prove that they are the best. Just ask Archie Manning.
Given, I am an N.C. State fan, but I am also a former sportswriter who knows the meaning of objectivity. I have watched every Philip Rivers start in Raleigh and then some, and I attend games with a guy who is a diehard Ohio State fan and grew up in Columbus (his company has him in Raleigh). For four years he considered ACC football JV compared to the Big Ten, but if you were to ask him who the best QB in the country is, he would say it's Rivers. So would a client of mine who is an Ohio State grad. His comment after the loss to the Buckeyes, "Man, he is the real deal, I just wish the rest of the country could see him." Rivers is unbelievable. No game is ever out of reach -- we just run out of time. For those non-believers, if you could watch him for just one quarter, you would agree there is no other QB, and I mean absolutely no QB you would rather have under center. Symons came to Raleigh this year, but despite his big numbers, there was no doubt who was easily the better of the two. No one compares. Rivers may not win the Heisman, but he will go down as one of the all-time greats -- his was a Golden Era in Raleigh. No. 17 will be missed. I just hate that he will never get the chance to carve up Miami and Virginia Tech.
Jason White is far and away superior to any of the other potential candidates (Rivers, Symons, Fitzgerald, Manning, etc.). To hear most of the morons on ESPN tell it, it's Fitzgerald's to lose! Think about this: OU has essentially the same team as the past two years. What is the difference? Jason White at quarterback. He raises an outstanding team to another level.
Jason White, Larry Fitzgerald, and Eli Manning are clearly awesome players, and I think B.J. Symons has had an excellent season; however, it is Rivers who is really getting the shaft. Rivers will go out as the top quarterback ever in all the statistical categories in the ACC. He will also go out having broken multiple records in the NCAA in general, having NEVER missed a single start. Yes, the team has had four losses, but if the trophy is based on the best college player in the land and NOT the team itself, then it's a travesty for him not to at least get an invitation to New York, much less be in the running. Multiple times he has single-handedly brought the team back to victory or near victory. There is not another quarterback out there who has done more for his team or the sport in general. He gets my vote many times over.
Luke Winn is the college football producer for SI.com. The Beat appears each Wednesday on the site.