UCLA gives USC reasons to worry
Now it’s real.
Now it’s on.
Now those USC fans who think Rick Neuheisel is only about cheap parlor tricks should understand something about the latest item pulled from his hat.
This one is alive.
And this one bites.
“Norm Chow has just looked USC in the eye and said, ‘Here we come,’ ” said Steve Clarkson, local quarterback guru.
If you don’t think the hiring of Norm Chow as the UCLA offensive coordinator could potentially change the football landscape in this town, then you need to think like a top high school quarterback.
“A kid like that is looking for the best opportunity to get him to the NFL,” Clarkson said. “Norm Chow gives him that.”
If you don’t think the hiring of Chow is the first serious shot that UCLA has fired at USC since Pete Carroll arrived, then you need to think like top high school running backs and receivers.
“Nationally, players from all the skill positions know him, not just quarterbacks,” said Greg Biggins, director of player personnel for the Student Sports high school marketing firm. “Everyone knows his impact. Everyone feels like he just gave UCLA a chance.”
If you can’t think of one reason that Chow is the kind of coach who can steal players, victories and perhaps even championships from USC, I’ll give you six reasons.
Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Marc Wilson.
Chow has tutored six first-round draft picks, and every high school star knows it.
“Kids no longer go to the school that they rooted for as a kid, they look at it like a business,” said Clarkson, whose celebrated quarterback academy has helped spawn three current NFL starters. “And to say that Norm Chow won’t make a difference is to make a serious error in judgment.”
If you’re still not convinced, I’ve got three more reasons.
Heisman for Leinart. Heisman for Palmer. Heisman for Ty Detmer.
“Even defensive kids love to play in that kind of environment,” Biggins said.
You want two more reasons USC should be worried?
The 2003 season and the 2004 season.
They will be among the first two things the reserved Chow will say when he softly enters a recruit’s living room to close a deal.
He will quietly remind the kid he was calling the offensive shots when the current USC dynasty won its two national championships.
Then Neuheisel will shout, “And Pete Carroll has never won one without him!”
The change won’t happen next year. It might not happen for a couple of years.
But assuming Chow sticks around, as far as USC fans are concerned, this hiring is Vince Young running eight yards into one corner of the end zone.
This hiring is Tavita Pritchard throwing 10 yards into the other corner of the end zone.
This hiring could be a direct, smoking-hot hit.
“We tell our athletes, marry yourself to your future position coach, that’s the guy you’ll live with,” said Bruce Rollinson, the venerable Mater Dei coach. “And now, if you’re a quarterback going to UCLA, you’re getting the real deal.”
Rollinson is coaching the kid rated as the best high school player in the country, quarterback Matt Barkley.
And although Barkley comes from a USC family and seems to be a lock for the Trojans, he did make an unofficial visit to UCLA last week.
The conventional thinking is that Barkley would never dump Carroll for Chow. But then, the conventional thinking was also that UCLA Coach Neuheisel would never land Chow in the first place.
“I don’t think Pete Carroll is losing any sleep over any of this right now,” Rollinson said of Chow’s impact. “But two or three years down the road, that’s when we’ll see.”
There are, indeed, hurdles to be cleared and credibility to be earned.
Why would Chow agree to make the awful drive to Westwood from the South Bay every day for a job that he financially does not need? Could it be that he wants to keep his name on the market to keep alive his dream of becoming a head coach?
If that is the case, he could get offers and be gone after one season.
Then there is the money issue, namely, can Chow still afford to work for a much smaller UCLA salary when his $2-million Tennessee Titans fund dries up?
If he gets a better money offer elsewhere, he could be gone after two seasons.
If he’s only at UCLA because he wants to stick it in Carroll’s face after being unofficially forced out, well, revenge is not a motivation that endures.
But if he’s truly there because he’s finally realized that his niche in life is being one of the best offensive coordinators in college football history, well, that could work.
“He definitely changes the landscape, there are no more foregone conclusions around here,” Clarkson said.
The only certainty is that, with Chow in one hand and DeWayne Walker in the other, Neuheisel can now swing at USC’s few soft spots.
First, he can talk about how he has assembled one of the best brain trusts in the nation, while the makeup of Carroll’s coaching staff has radically changed since the national championship years.
Some insiders directly attribute USC’s struggles this season to a depleted coaching staff that, since the national championship years, has lost the offensive brains and muscle of Chow, Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, Tim Davis and Kennedy Pola.
Second, Neuheisel can talk about the development of current Trojans quarterback John David Booty.
He’s a great kid, but he never improved in the manner that Palmer and Leinart improved under Chow.
“You’re going to see the quarterbacks at UCLA get better right away; that’s how it works with Chow,” Clarkson said.
USC is still arguably the best football program in the nation. Carroll is still the best coach. His team could win a national championship next season by simply maintaining a pulse and it would surprise nobody.
But Chow should make the Trojans look. He should make the Trojans wonder.
He’s only changing neighborhoods, but he could be changing everything.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.