USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow said Tuesday night that he is taking a similar job with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, thus ending one of the most successful coaching partnerships in college football history.
“I’m fired up -- it’s an exciting opportunity to get into the highest level of football,” Chow said. “But my family is very, very sad to leave USC because it’s been such a great run.”
Chow, 58, accepted an offer from Titan Coach Jeff Fisher that will pay him nearly $1 million annually plus incentives. It will be Chow’s first job in pro football after 32 seasons at Brigham Young, North Carolina State and USC.
Fisher is expected to hold a news conference today in Nashville to announce Chow’s hiring.
“They’re taking a chance on a college guy, and I’m grateful for that,” Chow said by phone late Tuesday from Utah, where he is seeing off one of his children, Chandler, who is beginning a Mormon mission in Hawaii.
Chow joined USC’s staff in January 2001, shortly after USC Coach Pete Carroll was hired to replace Paul Hackett. After finishing 6-6 their first season, Carroll, who is also the Trojans’ defensive coordinator, and Chow, gave the Trojans a nearly unbeatable combination.
Chow helped USC win three consecutive bowl championship series bowl games and two consecutive national titles. He also tutored Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart as the Trojans compiled a 36-3 record.
“The thing I’ll miss the most is the players, the coaches and the fan base,” Chow said. “It’s such a unique place. I’m grateful to Pete Carroll for just giving us the opportunity to be a part of that.”
Chow said the Trojans would continue to prosper as they make a run at a third consecutive national title.
“I’m sure they’ll win again next year,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed being part of the Trojan family and will continue to cheer for the Trojans.”
Chow was regarded as the leading candidate to become the Titans’ offensive coordinator ever since Mike Heimerdinger left the team to become offensive coordinator for the New York Jets. Chow interviewed with Fisher and team officials in Nashville on Friday and mulled the opportunity through the weekend.
A day after offensive line coach Tim Davis took a job with the Miami Dolphins, Chow became the fifth assistant to leave USC since the Trojans routed Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
“It’s been like an avalanche,” Leinart said.
Chow’s departure is especially untimely for Leinart, who announced last month that he would pass up a chance to enter the NFL draft and return for his fifth and final season of eligibility. He said Monday that if he had known Chow would not be in the fold it would have “changed my thought process.”
But on Tuesday afternoon, with Chow’s departure imminent, Leinart said he was not upset with the coach who turned him into USC’s sixth Heisman winner.
“You establish a relationship with a great coach and, for four years where I’ve struggled and been through a lot, it’s just like my last year -- I want to play with him,” Leinart said. “But you can’t ask for too much in football. It’s a great opportunity, the best you can possibly get. It’s great for him.”
Davis and Chow followed the exits of defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, quarterbacks coach Carl Smith and graduate assistant Dennis Slutak. Orgeron is now coach at the University of Mississippi, Smith is offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Slutak joined Orgeron’s staff as special teams coordinator.
Carroll, who hired Jethro Franklin last month to replace Orgeron, said Tuesday that he spoke with New England Patriot Coach Bill Belichick a few months ago about the difficulty of keeping successful staffs together.
Carroll said he prepared for the most recent departures from the time he brought the assistants into the program.
“When all those guys got here we talked about all these opportunities being part of the process,” Carroll said.
As for filling Chow’s spot on the staff, Carroll said, “I think I have it just the way it needs to go.”
Carroll declined to be specific, but receivers coach Lane Kiffin is expected to take on offensive coordinator responsibilities, possibly in a combination with Steve Sarkisian, who was USC’s quarterbacks coach in 2002 and 2003 before joining the Oakland Raiders’ staff last season.
Kiffin, 29, is one of only two coaches remaining from Carroll’s first staff. Chris Carlisle, the strength and conditioning coach, is the other.
Kiffin was promoted to passing game coordinator last season and was recently named recruiting coordinator by Carroll.
“He got elevated last year because he was contributing so much,” Carroll said. “He’s done tons and tons of work in the throwing game.”
Sarkisian, 30, played quarterback under Chow at Brigham Young and developed a good relationship with Leinart before he joined the Raider staff.
Carroll said Tuesday that of more immediate concern was finding a replacement for Davis.
Pat Ruel, an offensive line coach for the New York Giants last season, was scheduled to arrive Tuesday night to interview for the position. Ruel, 53, coached for 25 years at Miami, Arkansas, Washington State, Texas A&M;, Northern Illinois, Kansas and Michigan State.
Carroll said Ken Norton Jr. would be made full time after Chow’s departure. Norton, who played linebacker in the NFL for 13 years, worked last season as a graduate assistant.
Carroll also said that former USC linebacker Sam Anno would join the staff as a graduate assistant for special teams, replacing Slutak. Anno played seven seasons in the NFL and was once selected the league’s special teams player of the year.
Carroll must also find a replacement for Mark Jackson, USC’s director of football operations. Jackson, 32, is in the process of finalizing details to become a senior associate athletic director at Syracuse. Jackson was wooed by Daryl Gross, a former senior associate athletic director at USC who was hired as Syracuse’s athletic director in December.
“I’ve been saying all along that we’ll be able to withstand this stuff,” Carroll said chuckling. “So we better.”
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Raising the Bar
USC’s offense improved dramatically in the four seasons Norm Chow was the offensive coordinator with Pete Carroll as coach, compared with the three seasons Paul Hackett was coach:
THE HACKETT YEARS
*--* Season Games Points AVG YPG 1998 13 346 26.6 343.8 1999 12 348 29.0 402.7 2000 12 309 25.8 415.9 THE CARROLL/CHOW YEARS 2001 12 298 24.8 314.5 2002 13 465 35.8 449.2 2003 13 534 41.1 447.5 2004 13 496 38.1 449.1