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His Final Play Call Is an Out Pattern

Nothing can louse up a sporting operation faster than too many losses.

Except, perhaps, too many wins.

Norm Chow, possibly the greatest assistant coach in college football history, is departing two-time national champion USC for the Tennessee Titans under a subheading of, “Another incredibly good thing comes to an end.”

Chow is hitting the trail for a lot more money -- but not for a head-coaching job -- which raises the long-percolating suspicion that a rift between USC Coach Pete Carroll and Chow made parting inevitable.

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At face value, this is crazy, preposterous, and will be denied publicly for perfectly logical reasons.

Yet, if Chow is leaving after four years, in part because of Carroll, and Carroll isn’t losing any sleep over it, well, welcome to life as we know it and the course of human nature.

Question: Why couldn’t this dream relationship last forever?

Answer: Because nothing does.

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John Lennon and Paul McCartney, one of the most successful songwriting teams in pop-music history, couldn’t work it out in the end, even though they shared credit on the song “We Can Work It Out.”

Breaking up the Beatles proves you can break up anything.

“Life is very short, and there’s no time, for fussing and fighting my friend.”

Oh, yes there is.

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were the hottest act in show business before they dissolved their partnership in 1956 after a show at the Copacabana.

Neither was as good individually as they were as a team.

We could go on and on ...

Pete and Norm seemed so perfect together, but so did Brad and Jennifer.

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In fact, the cardboard cutout appearance of harmony is often a contradiction.

The very act of putting creative, driven people with healthy egos into a room together produces positive internal combustion, but also exhaust.

Fortune 500 companies seeking to increase shareholder profit use “creative tension” to motivate employees, knowing the shelf life may be limited.

It is one of the ironies of sports, and life, that success claims almost as many victims as failure.

People spend their competitive careers trying to reach the top, and many of them just can’t stand it when they get there.

It seems illogical that USC would want to break up one of the great tag-team partnerships in college football history, but is it?

The Lakers disintegrated after winning three consecutive NBA titles.

Owner Jerry Jones and Coach Jimmy Johnson won two Super Bowl titles with the Dallas Cowboys, after which Jones was so determined he could win another without Johnson that he hired Barry Switzer -- and won one.

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The Cowboys, though, never really were the same.

Oakland Athletic owner Charles Finley created a baseball lab experiment in the 1970s in which he tossed 25 talented egomaniacs into a clubhouse, paid them peanuts, and watched them kick, curse and fight their way to three consecutive World Series titles before the whole thing blew up.

We may never know what really transpired with Carroll and Chow because both are putting happy faces on developments and neither is likely to write a tell-all book to rival Jose Canseco’s.

Just know, though, that it is never as it looks in public, even when it looks spectacularly good.

In any operation -- even the best ones -- there is always something gurgling beneath the surface.

Officially documenting the purported, if not reported, gulf between Carroll and Chow is going to be tough if neither man owns up to it.

There is plausible deniability everywhere you look.

Chow is leaving one job for another that pays him twice as much.

Anyone have a problem with that?

Chow also has, on his side, an almost impeachable track record.

He was never a “climber” in the industry, a guy who leveraged success as a means of promoting himself.

On the contrary, he spent 27 dutiful years at one school, Brigham Young, leaving only when it became apparent that he would be passed over as LaVell Edwards’ successor.

Yet, to deny creative tension existed between Carroll and Chow would be to ignore an off-the-record drumbeat that has pounded for some time now.

It also seems out of character that Chow would take a job for more money only weeks after quarterback Matt Leinart left millions on the table to return for his senior season, obviously thinking that season would be spent with Chow.

If Carroll thought Chow was getting too much credit for USC’s two national titles, well A) that’s petty, and B) tough.

If Chow was miffed that a pending promotion to “assistant head coach” might actually be a demotion, maybe he was putting too much stock in job titles.

In the end, this divorce, amicable or otherwise, is a setback for USC and good for any other school trying to win the national title.

There is no denying that Carroll, on defense, and Chow, on offense, were a formidable one-two punch.

It was also irrefutable that Chow had become an equal partner in USC’s success after Leinart became the third Heisman Trophy winner he mentored in his career.

In the press box, before the Orange Bowl, Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville all but predicted that Oklahoma had no chance to beat USC.

“Norm Chow is one guy I would not want to face with a month off,” Tuberville said.

That said, Carroll has seemingly received more than enough credit for orchestrating USC’s rise from afterthought to potential dynasty.

Oddly, though, he never seemed bothered with the prospect of losing assistant coaches to other jobs, not even the genius coordinator who called the offensive plays.

Carroll, maybe correctly, sees a football program as an organic entity, with plants that need to be nurtured and dirt that needs to be overturned.

To him, gardening is 90% of the fun of it.

The effect of this tilling won’t be known until next year’s harvest.

With Leinart returning, USC can probably win a national title on autopilot. The key is how the new offensive brain trust, presumably Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, develops the USC quarterbacks of the future: John David Booty, Rocky Hinds and incoming freshman Mark Sanchez.

It’s a shame for USC fans that Chow won’t be around to see this amazing pigskin project through to its conclusion.

You get the sense, however, that this might have been the way Carroll envisioned it all along.


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