Many factors led to coordinator leaving USC for NFL
Posted: Wednesday February 9, 2005 3:36PM; Updated: Wednesday February 9, 2005 6:30PM
Norm Chow hopes to duplicate the success he had with Matt Leinart in the NFL.
1) Why would Norm Chow leave USC to become an NFL coordinator? I thought he wanted to be a head coach.
Here's what Chow told me a few weeks ago, on the subject of coaching in the NFL: "I'm not sure at my age that I could coach guys making all that money." He's been turning down NFL coordinator's jobs for years, including several this year alone. What changed?
First of all, you're correct, Chow does want to become a head coach. And he loved working for Pete Carroll at USC. (When I talked to Chow in mid-January, he raved about Carroll's football brain and the challenge of working with and against Carroll every day in practice. He acknowledged that Carroll has had a major role in shaping the USC offense, even though he's regarded as a defensive mind).
It would be foolish to dismiss money as an issue. Chow was among the highest-paid coordinators in college football, at more than $400,000 a year. The Titans and head coach Jeff Fisher will reportedly pay him $1 million a year. But all of the NFL jobs he's turned down over the years would have represented a huge raise. Over the last few seasons, Chow has become disenchanted with his inability to get a top head-coaching job in college. In particular, he thought he had a great shot at the Stanford job this winter, before the Cardinal hired Walt Harris from Pittsburgh. "They told me I was their guy," Chow said. He began to wonder if maybe schools were just interviewing him to fulfill a minority-candidate requirement. (Chow is Chinese-Hawaiian).
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Two possibilities: First, Chow began to realize that he might never be hotter than he is right now, off two national titles and two Heisman trophies (Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart). He is 58 years old. If he ever wanted to jump, this was the time. Second, top college programs often seek head coaches with NFL experience, like Harris and Charlie Weis. If Chow is successful with Titans, it's a big, bold line on his resume, maybe the one he needs to become a head coach in college three or four years down the road. If he's not successful, he won't have any problem going back and finding a coordinator's job in college.
2) What does this mean to USC?
Short term: Not a huge deal. Leinart and USC's small army of offensive perimeter skill players will plug the dam. Long term: Interesting question. Carroll's staff is hemorrhaging assistant coaches, which is a tribute to the quality to the people he's hired, but also presents a fresh challenge.
Never understate the value of great assistants. Best example: The Florida State dynasty of the mid- and late-1990's. Bobby Bowden was the creator and soul of the Seminoles' program. Mothers sent their sons to Tallahassee to play for Bobby. But the engine lay in the coordinators: Chuck Amato on defense (and on the recruiting trail) and Mark Richt on offense. When those two guys left to become head coaches (Amato at N.C. State, where he hired Chow; and Richt at Georgia), the program struggled to find traction. And it still is.
Carroll takes pride in telling people that the USC program is bigger than the coaches, bigger than the players. When I talked to him about Chow, he was full of praise, but also added: "This is the USC offense. We've made it that way so we won't get hurt if somebody leaves." Now that theory gets tested.