The Tennessee Titans were not the first NFL team to offer Norm Chow a job calling plays on Sunday afternoons. In the days before and after Chow helped guide USC to a 55-19 Orange Bowl rout of Oklahoma as the Trojans' offensive coordinator, his cellphone rang incessantly. "It's been crazy," Chow, 58, told SI in mid-January. But he wasn't biting at any of the opportunities. "I'm not sure at my age that I could coach guys making all that money," he said. He had only one real passion beyond USC: to become a college head coach.
Less than a month later Chow accepted an offer from Titans head coach Jeff Fisher to become the team's offensive coordinator. Last week Chow sent his youngest son, Chandler, 19, off on a two-year Mormon church mission to Hawaii ("Tough on Mom and Dad," Chow said) and then prepared to move into a hotel in Nashville.
What changed his mind? The Titans more than doubled his $400,000 USC salary, but Chow is a guy who stayed at Brigham Young for 27 years to keep life stable for his wife and their four children. Chow said he was swayed by Fisher and a long meeting with Titans quarterback Steve McNair. "I decided, This is football; I can do this," says Chow. "Steve told me everybody just wants to win. Maybe I can help them."
Chow's departure left a void in Los Angeles, where he had tutored Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer in 2002 ("You love the guy so much you don't want to throw an incompletion," says Palmer) and Matt Leinart last season ("If he had left, I would have left," Leinart said before he decided to stay at USC for another year, and long before Chow signed with the Titans). There was buzz in the L.A. papers that a rift between Chow and USC head coach Pete Carroll precipitated the move. Chow only praises Carroll. "The guy is as bright as the day is long, and sometimes I think he's bored in college football," says Chow. "But I learned things from him about offense." Carroll, in contrast, only praises the system Carroll has built. "This is the USC offense," he said before Chow left. "We've made it that way so we won't get hurt if somebody leaves."
The Titans' job brings Chow a step closer to becoming a college head coach. He was deeply hurt when Stanford chose Pittsburgh's Walt Harris over him in December. "They told me I was their guy, right from the start," Chow said last month of Stanford. With the NFL on his résumé, he will be a more attractive candidate next time. "I hope so," Chow says. "I'd still like a shot of my own someday, but at my age, it's one year at a time." --Tim Layden