Chow leaves Trojans to give pro game a try

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher might have
given quarterback Steve McNair another reason to return for the
2005 season.

Fisher lured Norm Chow away from Southern California, where he
helped the Trojans win two straight national championships, to
become Tennessee's offensive coordinator.

Fisher said Wednesday that he has no doubts 58-year-old Chow can
handle NFL defenses despite spending 32 years coaching in the
college ranks.

One of Chow's top priorities is "to keep a quarterback on his
feet and keep him from getting knocked down," Fisher said at a
news conference. "Obviously, we share similar opinions. So that's
one thing that's going to be a paramount priority of ours is to
keep the pocket clean and keep Steve from getting hit."
McNair had bone grafted onto his sternum Dec. 28 after missing
six starts and parts of two others last season. He has said he will
wait to decide whether he should retire from the NFL after 10
Fisher said he believes McNair will return. The quarterback met
with Chow on Friday, and McNair's recovery is nearly complete.
"I believe that this decision put a little more bounce in his
step than he's had," Fisher said of McNair. "He's doing very well
right now, and I know he's excited about this."

Chow said the timing for this move was right.
His hiring comes a week after the Trojans signed a recruiting class
ranked among the best in the nation.

"Everybody understands it's an opportunity for me and my family to get to the highest level of football, and they understand the
excitement that we have," Chow said during a conference call.

He replaces Mike Heimerdinger, who was hired as the New York Jets' offensive coordinator last month.

This is Chow's first job in pro football after 27 seasons at
BYU, a season at North Carolina State and the last four at USC.
Chow had some NFL opportunities in the past, but never pursued
Asked about reports of friction with USC coach Pete Carroll,
Chow said there was nothing to that talk.

"All of that is exaggerated. I owe a lot to Pete Carroll. He
knows that. He knows how I feel. I know how he feels. We can't
control anything else," Chow said.

A USC alumnus, Fisher also interviewed assistant head coach George Henshaw and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson from his own staff. He initially met with Chow for four hours a
few days before national signing day Feb. 2, then had a lengthy final
interview in Nashville on Friday.

Fisher said he was impressed with Chow's
ability to teach young players and pointed out that Chow has
coached three Heisman Trophy winners, including the most recent in
Matt Leinart. He also noted that Chow's offense has ranked in the
top 10 nationally in 15 of the last 21 years.

"We know which direction our offense wants to go, and I felt
without any question in my mind that he's the right guy to get us
there," Fisher said.

Chow tutored quarterback Philip Rivers at NC State in 2000, then groomed Heisman Trophy-winning
quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Leinart at USC.

At BYU, Chow worked with Heisman Trophy
winner Ty Detmer, soon-to-be Hall of Famer Steve Young and Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon -- a former teammate of Fisher's.

"Coach Chow and I feel ... the potential to win here is still
there and in a short period of time will be greater than it ever
has been," Fisher said.

The Titans are at least $21 million over the 2005 salary cap and facing a tough offseason. If McNair returns, that means the Titans might consider making one more run at a Super Bowl before cutting expensive veterans in favor of younger, cheaper players.

"As we enter some lean times or some challenging times over the next couple of years," Fisher said, "we're going to have some
younger players playing, and it makes sense to be able to have an
offensive system where you can have younger players on the field
and get them productive as soon as possible."