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The Chow Factor Revisited

I will admit that this is bit of a rehash from a post that I wrote back in January but with something I read recently I felt compelled to look at it again.
. . .

In the first year of the Pete Carroll era USC went 6-and-6, finishing the season with an embarrassing loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. Nobody knew what was in store in the coming years for USC, but if improvements were ever going to happen, changes would have to take place.

Carroll had put together a pretty good staff, led by OC Norm Chow. As we all know Chow is legendary in the college game, his record has been well documented, so there is no need to rehash that here. But as great as Chow is he isn’t perfect and after that 2001 season Pete Carroll saw enough to make some changes.

Arthur Troy (A.K.A. Art of Troy) has written a couple of great reads over at the Bleacher Report, one of which I referenced a couple of weeks ago looking at USC’s scoring decline. In one particular comment Art recounts the story from Loel Schrader and Steve Bischeff 's book Fight On! of how change was in the air after the loss to Utah.

Although there was little talk by the staff about a change in offensive strategy after the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl loss (USC lost 10-6 to Utah to finish the season with 6 wins and 6 losses), Carroll told the authors of this book the Trojans were "so awful, disgraceful," that he "decided that we were going to change the offense."

A former member of the staff said Carroll, in effect, "junked the BYU offense" Norm Chow brought with him to USC in 2001. Carroll turned to two professional coaches for assistance -- Alex Gibbs of the Denver Broncos and Jon Gruden, who was then at Oakland but moved to Tampa Bay. Denver had been known for possessing the best running attack in the NFL, and Gibbs was generally accorded most of the credit for developing it. Gruden was young, but he was known for his passing schemes and offensive brilliance. Each summer, Lane Kiffin has spent time with Gruden, who is head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His defensive coordinator is Monte Kiffin, Lane's father.

There is no question that Chow has brought a lot to the game but he is far from perfect. Losses in games against K-State in 2002 and Cal in 2003 show that Chow's offensive game plans aren't infallible. Chow had his bad tendencies but is also flexible, always willing to learn something new in coaching. He was functional in his rough spots. Some of that's experience, some of that's having a coherent scheme, some of it's his particular genius. As for his personality, he appears to be sensitive, some people say a little paranoid, openly not very enthusiastic about recruiting, and he has made some strange recruiting choices (Grant Mattos for example). His approach is not the most physical of philosophies, Carroll had to override him at times and force more running plays and power runs to balance the offense.

While it is easy to say he is the greatest OC in all of CFB I think that paints too much with a broad brush. His real genius was in deciding how to attack opposing defenses and in how to mix things up like changing the formation with a lot of movement before before the snap. His development of QB’s is also a strong asset, just look at Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, but to me that is only part of how successful his time was at SC.

With all that being said (I could probably write volumes of praise) I find this passage the most interesting.

When Chow was praised for what "his" offense was doing, the offensive coordinator would make a point of saying, "It isn't *my* offense, it's Pete Carroll's offense." But most USC followers assumed Chow was just being modest, when, in fact, he was telling it like it was.

People say Chow has a big ego, maybe, but it could be that he really has a tremendous amount of pride. I don't have the answer there but what I do know is that Chow could not have done it alone, you need talent. I saw another comment recently that really drives that point home!

[...]If you line up Heisman quality players like Bush, Leinart, Williams, White, Jarrett, etc . . . a lot of OCs could have done something with that crew. It looks pretty easy when Bush takes what should be a 6 yard gain, and turns it into a 60 yard TD play.

In '05, the play-calling was just fine for that offense that produced (2) 1,000 yard rushers, basically (2) 1,000 yard receivers and a 3,000 yard passer for the first time in CFB history. And Chow wasn't there.

I would certainly not diminish Chow's accomplishments while he was at SC but he is not a god either. To me it shows that there needs to be a balance, you need both talent and coaching to have that type of success year in and year out.

Chow will have an immediate impact on their schemes and in teaching their offense to read and change plays on the fly, but that one big variable will be how he does in accommodating their inexperienced offensive line and the challenges that will create for both fast QB play as well as the running game.

For all the talent recruited to SC, and for all the headway in coaching since Chow left, those years were a perfect storm. I doubt we will ever see that type of production again.