Gone from UCLA, Chow settles in at Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- Circle the date in red: UCLA at Utah on Nov. 12. The Norm Chow-Rick Neuheisel showdown. Emotions will be high as two coaches seek vindication after their failed marriage in Westwood. These guys, clearly, don't like each other.

At least that would be the fun, grudge-match angle.

"Rick's a good guy," Chow said. "There's no bad feelings." And Neuheisel has repeatedly said the same about Chow.

Now, we're not going to smooth over this. Chow, by any measure one of the best offensive minds in the history of college football, didn't succeed at UCLA. The Bruins offense mostly stunk during his three-year tenure. Not all the blame belongs to Chow. Not all the blame belongs to Neuheisel, an offensive-minded head coach who isn't the hands-off sort. Not all the blame falls on the middling talent. What is clear is that Neuheisel cleaned house at UCLA this offseason, and Chow ended up at Utah. And the Chow-Neuheisel separation was a laborious process that required weeks to finalize.

But the endgame is this: Chow ended up at Utah, his alma mater, and with a head coach, Kyle Whittingham, whom he knows well. His marching orders are to remake the Utes offense in his preferred image: pro-style, West Coast (you know: the scheme he developed during his quarter-century coaching at BYU).

Whittingham and Chow both say they connected over Tim Davis, whom Whittingham was considering -- and eventually hired -- as his new offensive line coach. Davis had coached with Chow at USC. So Whittingham made inquiries and that conversation led to a "So, Norm, how are things in Westwood?"

Not so good, said Chow. Whittingham sensed an opportunity.

"Was I looking to make a change?" Whittingham said. "No, not necessarily. But never would I pass up an opportunity to make ourselves better."

Said Chow, "He knew he wanted to change to a more power, downhill running game."

It took more than a month to cross the T's and dot the I's, but here's Chow, weaning the Utes away from their spread offense a year after he was charged -- with some discomfort -- with teaching the Bruins the Nevada pistol.

Chow, seven practices into his new job, seems to like what he sees, even though his starting quarterback, Jordan Wynn, can't throw due to shoulder surgery. Wynn, apparently, has shown Chow plenty without throwing a pass.

"Just sitting in meetings with him, it's extremely obvious he's very bright," Chow said. "To me the key element for a quarterback is you've got to be smart. He gets it all."

Chow likes his receivers, believes his offensive line is solid and thinks new additions Harvey Langi and John White will be able to get the job done at running back. He likes the Utes' intangibles, too.

"Kyle has done a terrific job of preparing them to practice," Chow said.

As for Chow's players, they still seem a little in awe of him. Said Wynn: "I honestly didn't expect him to come here. I was like, 'I'll believe it when I actually see him here in Utah gear.' But it happened. It's a great honor to play for him."

Added offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom, "I was waiting for them to say, 'We're bringing back Paul "Bear" Bryant, getting the coaching dream team together.'"

Of course, the adulation won't last if the Utes don't score points. It seemed like Neuheisel enlisted a "dream team" when he had Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker on his 2008 staff. No dreams came of that, unless you're talking about some nightmarish games.

By the time UCLA heads to Salt Lake City for a Pac-12 South Division clash, it's likely that the newness of Chow will have worn off and the point production will be what matters.

Chow seems amused knowing that reporters will be eager to play up the perceived emotions of the matchup. Recall that he went through the same routine when the Bruins played USC, where he made beautiful music with Pete Carroll until those two went all Lennon and McCartney and fell out.

This is not, as Chow said, his "first rodeo."

"The minute the game starts, those become just guys in a different jersey," Chow said. "You guys can worry about that."