Norm Chow thought he was done with football a few months ago as he was enjoying another picturesque sunset at his home in Manhattan Beach.
“I was retired and I realized 49 years of coaching was probably enough,” Chow said. “I had grand kids and I wanted to spend more time with my family.”
Chow, 73, was one of the most accomplished offensive coordinators in college football history, coaching eight of the top 14 career passing efficiency leaders and 13 quarterbacks who rank in the top 30 in NCAA history for single-season passing yardage.
While at USC, the Trojans won back-to-back national championships and Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart won the Heisman Trophy.
He won a national championship at BYU and helped Ty Detmer win a Heisman Trophy while also working with Steve Young and Jim McMahon. In his lone season at North Carolina State, he tutored Philip Rivers.
“I was happy,” Chow said. “I had nothing left to prove.”
But just as Chow was getting comfortable with retirement life he got an email in May from Winston Moss, who had spent the previous 12 seasons as the assistant head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Moss was about to be named the new head coach of Los Angeles’ XFL team and he wanted to meet with Chow.
“I didn’t know him, but I met with him and within a minute you realize how passionate this guy is and how excited he is,” Chow said. “It’s exciting because it’s new. It’s fun to be a part of this start-up and it’s going to be good football. There’s no question about it. I can’t wait to get out there. There’s still juice in the tank. My wife was probably glad to get me out of the house too.”
Chow will be the team’s offensive coordinator but his impact considering his connection to Los Angeles, having coached at USC and UCLA, and living in the city for 20 years will be much larger than that.
“I lucked out,” Moss said. “I had never met Norm but I knew about him. I remember him when I was with Green Bay and he was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee and they ran us out of the damn stadium. That really impressed me and I want to do that here. But he’s also an ambassador in this community. We want to build a relationship with this community and he’s a big part of that.”
On Wednesday, the XFL announced the team names and logos of all eight teams. Chow found out with the rest of the country that he would be coaching the Los Angeles Wildcats, who will play their home games at Dignity Health Sports Park beginning in February. They will be playing against the Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, New York Guardians, St. Louis BattleHawks, Seattle Dragons, Tampa Bay Vipers and Washington Defenders.
The coaching comeback will allow Chow an opportunity to finish his career on a happy note after getting fired in 2015 from Hawaii after posting a 10-36 record in four seasons as the head coach of the Warriors. It was the first head coaching opportunity for Chow, who was born and raised in Honolulu, despite being a candidate for many jobs over the years.
“I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a head coach,” Chow said. “Hawaii’s a hard gig. There’s no money. It’s hard to recruit. All the local players like Marcus Mariota all want to leave and they should leave too. The players were terrific and it’s a great place to live but it was just a tough situation.”
When Chow moved back to Manhattan Beach from Hawaii, he thought he was done with football. He spent most of his time with his wife Diane, three sons, Carter, Cameron, and Chandler, daughter, Maile, and their nine grandchildren. He dipped his toes back in football every now and again mainly because of his family. He would visit Cameron, who is a football coach and English teacher at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach. He would check on former USC wide receiver Mike Williams, who was the head coach at Van Nuys High School, whenever he would visit Chandler, who worked nearby, and Carter is a football agent, who also represents him.
“I was never really coaching, they don’t need me, I just went down there to hang out and be a fan,” Chow said. “I just tried to stay busy. I did a radio show back in Salt Lake about the Pac-12 and some stuff in China but I think I disappointed them when they saw my last name and realized I didn’t speak the language.”
As Chow sat in the Wildcats’ office in Beverly Hills on Wednesday afternoon he did a double take when someone pointed out that the team’s colors looked similar to USC’s cardinal and gold. He smiled as he thought back to some of the big moments the Trojans had during his four seasons there despite leaving somewhat abruptly after the team’s second national championship in 2005 when many felt Pete Carroll wanted to hand over play-calling duties to assistant coaches Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.
“I had an absolutely magnificent time at USC,” Chow said. “Of course, he wanted those guys to grow. He enjoyed the turnover because it allowed the younger guys to get a chance but I’m very grateful to Pete for my time at USC and the opportunity to coach in the NFL and make some more money and support my family.”
Chow, who left USC to become the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, had a chance to return to the school in 2010 when Kiffin became the head coach but decided to remain as UCLA’s offensive coordinator.
“Lane called but you have to move on,” Chow said. “You enjoy the memories that you had and move on. Lane deserved the chance to be his own guy without having to bring me back and surround himself with Pete’s old staff.”
While Chow looked over prospects for the XFL’s inaugural player draft in October, he admits he has reached out to a couple of former players to see if they, like him, have a little juice left in the tank.
“There might be some guys who can still play,” Chow said. “I called Matt Leinart to see if he had anything left. He said he could hardly throw the ball to his son so he’s out but I think we’ll look at some USC and UCLA players to add some local flavor to this team.”