By Craig Ellenport | Sept. 26, 2018
Few coaches in the college or pro ranks fit the description of “quarterback guru” better than Norm Chow. A long-time offensive coordinator in college as well as the NFL, Chow has coached three Heisman Trophy winners – BYU’s Ty Detmer and USC’s Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Others who have benefitted from his tutelage include Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Philip Rivers.
Chow is best known for his tenure at BYU, where he worked under head coach LaVell Edwards and presided over a passing attack that was consistently among the nation’s best. He worked with Pete Carroll at USC, where he helped the Trojans win two national championships, and later became the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. The Hawaiian-born Chow was head coach at the University of Hawaii from 2012-15.
These days, Chow is enjoying retirement with his grandchildren, but he remains involved in the game. Chow has been working to promote football in China, where he says there is a lot of interest in the sport.
We recently caught up with Chow to ask about the current state of quarterbacking and offensive football:
HEAD COACH RANKING: What is the biggest difference between the NFL and the college game in terms of what the quarterback is asked to do?
NORM CHOW: I don’t think much. On both levels, football is a very quarterback-driven game. And you have to have a good one and you have to have one that’s extremely bright. I don’t think there’s any real big difference between the college and the pro game.
I think the RPOs and the read zones and all that have taken away a bit from the reading of a defense, if you will, because everybody wants to go so fast. And when you go fast, you’re not looking at the defense; you’re just looking to call a play. So I think that has to be learned when they get to the next level. In the old days, you had to understand it just as well as a guy in the NFL. Nowadays, because of what’s happening, I don’t think that’s required as much.
HCR: What NFL offenses do you like to watch and why?
NC: I like watching all the NFL teams, because they basically all have the same ideas as to how they’re gonna get things done. They’ve adapted a little bit to the read zones. We did it way back when; we did it with Vince Young a little bit (with the Titans). Overall, the passing game is so sophisticated and so critical on the quarterback knowing where the coverages are, what the coverages are, where to go with the checkdowns. It’s fun to watch any of them, because I think they’re all good.
HCR: What defensive schemes gave you the most trouble?
NC: I think any time that you can rush the quarterback with four rushers and rattle him a little bit, then the seven defenders makes it hard to find room. If you’re rushing five or six, that only leaves five or six in the secondary and you can find it. If you’re rushing three and defending eight, then you better be running the football. So it’s the ones that can effectively put heat on a quarterback with just four rushers and defend the pass with seven guys, it makes it awfully tough because there’s not a lot of room to throw, not a lot of space out there. So it’s not so much scheme as it is having four guys who can rush.
The secondary is broken up into eight zones.. If you’ve got seven of them covered, now it’s the quarterback’s job to find the one that’s not covered. And if there’s heat on him, he’s gonna have trouble finding that.
HCR: If you were still an NFL offensive coordinator, would you use a fullback?
NC: I would. I guess we’re too old-fashioned. I was listening to Jon Gruden the other day. The old guys still believe in being under center, still believe in the footwork and the rhythm of a quarterback. I think they’re using them effectively now. They maybe get a third of the reps. NFL teams only keep one now. Although they have another tight end and oftentimes the tight end might as well be a fullback the way they use them.
HCR: If you were scouting quarterbacks, what traits would you look for?
NC: Over the years a lot of people have talked about that. In my mind, number one – and way above everything else – is that he has to be smart. He has to understand you can’t fool coaches. You can’t bluff your way through. You might not always make the right decision, but you’ve made a decision based on what you’ve seen. I think it’s strictly just a matter of being smart.
We’ve seen them all, right? Philip Rivers – I call him the javelin thrower. Then you see guys like Tom Brady or Carson Palmer, with the classic form. Tall ones, short ones, skinny ones, fat ones. You’ve seen them all, but I think the one overriding factor is the ones that can think. That can think and also lengthen plays. They’re good enough to get around in the pocket a little but and extend the play, if you will. But I think number one is smarts. Because arm strength and all that, if you have the right anticipation, you can get by.