by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

“Why didn’t anybody tell me how hard this job was going to be!”

So said new Hawaii football coach Norm Chow to a former coach and one of our Mountain West contacts during the offseason. We suspect (as our source confirmed) that Chow was only half-kidding, rather just passing along a new-found reality after spending almost four decades as a respected offensive tactician...but all, to this point, in an assistant coach’s role.

So ends the long wait for Chow, who had seemingly finished in second place as often as the San Francisco Giants of the 1960s when campaigning but just missing out on so many previous head coaching opportunities. But just when it seemed as if Chow was resigning himself to never getting a chance, presto! The Hawaii job opened after Greg McMackin was dismissed following last season, and suddenly Chow was a frontrunner for the first time in recent memory.

And indeed, Chow could finally feel just how legendary Hawaii play-by-play announcer Jim Leahey described Warrior wins for so many years...”Oh, how sweet it is!”

Better late than never for Chow, whose profile, once sterling, has, if not tarnished, been diminished somewhat since he left Pete Carroll’s USC staff after the Trojans won the 2004 BCS title. Up until that point, Chow had the Midas touch, with a 27-year run on LaVell Edwards’ BYU staff establishing Norm as one of the nation’s top play-callers and quarterback gurus. Subsequently, Chow moved for one season to NC State, where he helped mold a freshman QB named Philip Rivers, and then on to SC, where his subjects included a pair of future Heisman winners, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Chow had schooled another Heisman winner, Ty Detmer, at BYU, as well as Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, and Robbie Bosco in Provo.

Chow’s last few stops, however, have not been a similar parade. A stint as Jeff Fisher’s o.c. with the NFL Tennessee Titans between 2005-07 was met with only so-so results, and like almost everything else associated with Rick Neuheisel’s tenure as UCLA head coach, Chow’s run as Bruin o.c. between 2008-10 was an unmitigated disaster. Last year, Chow returned to alma mater Utah as its o.c., the results mixed at best (although injuries to Ute QBs didn’t help matters).

It is still fair to ask what took Chow so long to get the coveted head coaching assignment. The explanation is more clear-cut than it seems; Chow, and many others, long believed he was the heir apparent to Edwards at BYU. But as the legendary LaVell began contemplating retirement, word came from higher-ups in Provo that Chow was not going to ever get the BYU job (some have suspected it was due to his Asian roots). Chow soon skedaddled out of Provo and began his journey across the football map over the past 12 years.

Along the way, Chow had serious interviews for top spots at Kentucky, NC State, the NFL Arizona Cardinals, Hawaii, while also on the radar at Washington, Stanford, and UCLA. Indeed, many Pac-10 insiders have long believed the Bruins erred when not offering Chow their job in 2003, when Carroll’s SC program was just hitting stride as Chow was creating an offensive monster at Troy. Hiring Chow at that point could have perhaps slowed some of the SC momentum that soon became an avalanche, but UCLA AD Dan Guerrero never apparently even considered Chow and opted for ex-Bruin Karl Dorrell instead. (Don't get us started on Guerrero.) Chow became re-involved in the UCLA job hunt after Dorrell’s dismissal, but ended up on Neuheisel’s staff instead.

Still, the fit at Hawaii seems good, although at 66, this is probably going to be Chow’s first and last head coaching chance. Some Mountain West observers are comparing the Chow hire in Honolulu to the one at Wyoming 25 years ago, when longtime assistant Paul Roach finally got a head coaching opportunity late in his career. Roach delivered with some of the Cowboys’ best years in the last half-century, but stayed on the sidelines for only four seasons. Which seems to be about how long (4-5 years) most on the islands are figuring the Chow regime will last. The window is narrow, and Chow is expected to hit the ground running in the fall.

It is also a homecoming for Chow, born in Honolulu 4 ½ years after the Pearl Harbor attacks and raised on Oahu, where he attended Punahou School before attending college on the mainland at Utah. Still, the fan base on the islands has always been a demanding one, and never quite took to Chow predecessor McMackin, a career defensive coach who nonetheless kept the pass-happy Red Gun offense brought to UH by June Jones in 1999. But a late fade last season, losing four of the last five games to fall to 6-7 and miss an invitation to the hometown Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, cost McMackin his job.

Enter Chow. But as right as the environment seems in his homecoming to the islands, Hawaii in 2012 appears as if it would be a significant challenge for any coach...Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll, and certainly Chow.

Although seven starters return from last year’s offense, only three of them were atop the depth chart coming out of spring work, and Chow’s Warrior defense returns only four regulars from a year ago. Moreover, Hawaii’s schedule is tougher than it has been in recent years when campaigning in the WAC. Now, the Warriors have enlisted with the Mountain West (UH teams in other sports will now be competing in the Big West) and its upgraded competition, which for this season still includes former WAC rival and powerhouse Boise State. Moreover, non-conference dates include a trip to highly-ranked Southern Cal in the opener, and a visit from a likely-ranked BYU four weeks later. Both, ironically, former Chow employers. Both, not so ironically, likely to be heavily favored vs. the Warriors.

Offense is a big deal on the islands and Chow’s reputation should fit that narrative nicely, although don’t expect to see the June Jones/McMackin Red Gun at Aloha Stadium this fall. Instead, Chow has junked that version of the run-and-shoot for a pro-style set that will still put the football in the air, but rather feature Chow’s scheming and multiple variations (which could include some two-back sets), a recipe that used to work like a charm for past Chow teams and QBs.

Chow, however, doesn’t have Jim McMahon or Steve Young or Carson Palmer to detonate the new Warrior offense. He doesn’t even have recent productive Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz, whose eligibility expired after last season.

Instead, Chow is picking from among a mostly-untested candidate list that had trouble separating from one another in spring work. It was expected that jr. David Graves (left), the backup last season who passed for 768 yards and 5 TDs and received a couple of late-season starts when Moniz was KO’d, was the clear favorite to win the job. But Graves could not remain in the pocket as Chow and o.c. Tommy Lee (and that’s not, by the way, Pamela Anderson’s Tommy Lee) would have preferred in spring scrimmage work and was mostly outperformed by soph Jeremy Higgins, who seems to have at least pulled neck-and-neck with Graves entering fall camp. The wild card in the mix is frosh Ikaika Woolsey, a Richmond, CA product rated the seventh best pro-style high school QB by Scout.com. The depth chart was further muddled in March when jr. Cayman (Close The) Shutter, who entered spring listed No. 2 behind Graves, was charged with a DUI and subsequently suspended for the first four games of the season.

Unfortunately for Chow, he won’t be able to use the real ace up his sleeve, strong-armed Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham (son of former Buckeye, Notre Dame, and NFL QB Kent Graham), who will have to sit out this fall before becoming eligible in 2013. The thought in Honolulu is that Graves, Higgins, or even Woolsey are merely keeping the seat warm for Graham next year.

Although last year’s big-play WR, Royce Pollard, has graduated, whoever will be taking snaps in the fall will have a fairly well-established group of receiving targets led by jr. Billy Ray Stutzmann (right), who caught a team-best 78 passes a year ago, and smallish but clever 5'9 Miah Ostrowski, who despite missing three games due to injury last fall still caught 65 passes before switching his attention to Gib Arnold’s Hawaii hoopsters, where Ostrowski started much of the season at point guard.

Still, it will be odd to see a Warrior offense lining up at times with only two wideouts (a big departure from the Red Gun’s usual four), as well as employing a tight end for the first time since Fred Von Appen’s forgettable 0-12 team from 1998. The future answer to the Hawaii football trivia question about the school’s first TE end in the millennium will likely by 250-lb. jr. Tavita Woodard, expected to contribute more as a blocker than a receiver.

Chow’s QBs will still be winging the ball all over Aloha Stadium, but the pro-style set is going to run more often and probably more effectively than it did when mostly a diversion in the Red Gun. Expect Chow’s “keep ‘em off balance” style to result in lots of runs on usual pass downs, such as second and long, which ought to open up plenty of lanes for punishing 240-lb. soph Joey Iosefa (left), who was a prep QB but gained 548 YR as a frosh and displayed good hands with 20 catches as well. He’s the latest in a long line of Polynesian slammers at Hawaii that included our all-time favorite Warrior RB, 275-lb. West Keliikipi, earlier in the last decade.

More departures from the longtime Hawaii "norm" (no pun intended) will include Chow’s two-back sets, which likely feature the thunder Iosefa and the lightning Will Gregory, a 190-lb. RS frosh product from Los Angeles. Another home-grown slammer, 5-10, 225-lb. frosh Steve Lakalaka, Hawaii’s HS Player of the Year in 2011, de-committed from UCLA when Chow was hired and could also enter the fray.

There are also no guarantees about a rebuilt OL that projects to start three redshirt frosh and spent spring and likely most of fall camp learning the new schemes, assignments, and terminology of the Chow offense, so different than that of the Red Gun. A player to watch could be soph RG David Lefotu, a likely honors candidate, while touted frosh C Ben Clarke was playing with the first string much of spring before an ankle injury (not serious) kept him out of the Warrior Bowl spring game. A late addition to the mix is LT Kapua Sai, of whom Chow is familiar from his time with the Utes and will be immediately eligible in Honololu after Sai recently earned his degree at Utah.

Meanwhile, ingredients are also in the blender for a new-look defense that returns only four starters but hinted at making some radical adjustments in spring for new d.c. Thom Kaumeyer, who spent the last four years in the NFL on the Jacksonville Jaguars staff.

Never mind the read-and-react style; Chow wants Kaumeyer’s platoon to attack from the get-go, even more than McMackins’s stop unit from a year ago that managed an impressive 35 sacks (ranked 15th nationally). Though expected to work from base 4-3 alignments, don’t be surprised if Kaumeyer switches to an unorthodox 5-2 as situations warrant (mostly on passing downs) to hopefully disrupt the many pass-happy foes on the Warrior schedule.

Look for Kaumeyer to scheme ways to turn loose punishing 6'0, 235-lb. jr. OLB Art Laurel (right, last September vs. UNLV), who swooped for 9 sacks and 14 ½ tackles for loss a year ago. Defensive ends Bo Yap (260 lbs.) and returning starter Paipai Falemalu (245 lbs.) are a bit undersized but have a good burst from the edge and will be seeking to collpase the pocket whenever possible.

Kaumeyer and Chow believe they can get ultra-aggressive because of the presence of a couple of returning jr. starters on the corners, former juco Mike Edwards (left, last October vs. San Jose State) and John Hardy-Tuliau, the latter having started at free safety a year ago before converting to the corner in spring.

A pending development which could have huge impact on the secondary is the transfer of ballyhooed but peripatetic safety Demar Dorsey, the onetime Florida commit and Michigan recruit who has yet to play a college game but has enrolled at UH and will be petitioning for immediate eligibility later in the summer. Dorsey, expected by most to secure eligibility for the fall, would add a blue-chip, five-star prep to the Warrior secondary and further embolden Kaumeyer to open the floodgates with his pass-rushers and blitzers.

The special teams return P Alex Dunnachie and PK Tyler Hadden, though each have room for improvement over inconsistent 2011 production.

Historically, Hawaii has made a fortress at Aloha Stadium but had problems in its travels to the mainland, although the McMackin Warriors disproved some of that the past couple of years, especially at home, where Hawaii dropped its last five vs. the number a year ago (no wonder the natives were so restless) en route to seven spread setbacks in its last eight overall decisions vs. the line. The Warriors split 12 spread decisions on the mainland in 2010-11.

Summary...This seems so right for Chow to finally get a head coaching chance in his home state, but we are a bit skeptical about Hawaii’s chances this fall. Though a creative offensive mind of legendary status, Chow is trying to implement new everything in Honolulu, and most importantly doesn’t have an established QB to execute his intricate offense. Perhaps things come together later this season, but we suspect this will be a short honeymoon for Chow, native son or not, from the demanding islands fan base. 'Ol Norm will be doing extremely well to get his first Warrior edition to .500 and bowl eligibility.


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