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UCLA sees game plan for success in Chow

Neuheisel chooses to use rival USC's strength to advantage in picking assistants. He foresees a collaborative effort.

January 22, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Some at UCLA look across town with deep-rooted animosity -- and a dash of envy -- toward the USC football program. Rick Neuheisel, on the other hand, apparently sees a blueprint for success.

UCLA's new football coach continued to follow a familiar and proven plan by enticing Norm Chow to join his staff.

Chow, 61, who was introduced as UCLA's offensive coordinator Monday, spent four seasons running USC's offense for Pete Carroll. During that span, the Trojans won two national titles and had two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.

DeWayne Walker, UCLA's defensive coordinator, was the first coach Carroll hired for his USC staff when he became coach of the Trojans in 2001, and keeping Walker on the Bruins' staff was Neuheisel's first priority when he became UCLA's head coach in late December.

"Our goal is for us to get where they are," Neuheisel said about USC during a teleconference to introduce Chow. "We want to be one of the elite college football programs."

Chances of that will improve if Chow produces offensive shows similar to those he directed at USC -- and at North Carolina State and Brigham Young before that.

Chow and Walker also interviewed for the Bruins' head coach job, but Neuheisel predicted they would work well together. "This is going to be an ego-less thing," he said. "We're partners in a start-up company."

Chow, who was fired as offensive coordinator by the Tennessee Titans last week, will have control of the offense, an issue that is believed to have caused some friction with Carroll at USC, where Chow received the credit for the Trojans' offensive success.

"Norm is offensive coordinator," Neuheisel said. "He will call the plays and I will be an ally."

Said Chow: "I have never been one who needs power control. 'Coordinate' is a word that means a lot. You need everyone's input.

"On Saturday afternoons, we're not going to have a round-table discussion every time there is a call to be made. But the decisions will be made on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday collectively."

Chow inherits an offense that ranked 101st out of 119 major college teams in passing offense and 92nd in scoring.

Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan, the Bruins' top two quarterbacks, missed large portions of the season because of injuries . They will now work with a coordinator who has produced top quarterbacks.

The Chow line includes Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer of USC and Ty Detmer of Brigham Young. He also worked with Super Bowl winners Steve Young and Jim McMahon at BYU, and with Chargers starter Philip Rivers at North Carolina State.

"To have the opportunity to work with someone of Coach Chow's caliber, I don't think there is any offensive player, let alone a quarterback, who wouldn't feel fortunate," said Olson, who has one year of eligibility remaining.

Olson, who was considered among the nation's top recruits coming out of Thousand Oaks High in 2002, has 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions during his first three seasons at UCLA. Palmer's ratio was about the same -- 39 touchdown passes and 39 passes intercepted -- at the same point of his college career. He then won the Heisman Trophy as a senior in the 2002 season.

Palmer had two seasons to work with Chow; Olson will have one.

"I just have to make the most of it and consider myself lucky to have one year," said Olson, who has attended Chow's quarterback camps in the past. "I'm going to be like a sponge and pick his brain, learning as much as I can."

Neuheisel and Walker went to Chow's house Friday and Saturday, treating Chow "just like a blue-chip recruit," Neuheisel said.

Chow signed a multiyear contract, the terms of which were not announced. The Titans owe him a little more than $1 million annually for the next two years, so the NFL team will be responsible for paying him the difference between that and what UCLA pays him.

Chow considered not working for a year while spending time with his family, but the opportunity to return to college football while staying close to home -- he owns a house in the Los Angeles area -- was too much to resist.

"I'm looking forward to staying home instead of driving back to an empty hotel room every day," he said.

And at least a couple of former USC players are eager to see what kind of impact Chow's switching sides has on the USC-UCLA rivalry.

Carolina Panthers receiver Keary Colbert, who enjoyed several big seasons with Chow calling plays and is second on the Trojans' career list in receptions, said he'd been getting text messages from former Bruins DeShaun Foster and Tyler Ebell.

"They're just happy they have some people who have been in the land of Troy, on our side of the street, to help them win," he teased. "The race for second place in the Pac-10 has begun."

Said Detroit Lions defensive tackle Shaun Cody: "It should be fun to get the ball rolling and to see some epic battles. There are so many different plot twists now."

Of his years across town, Chow said, "I enjoyed a very special time at USC. I had a son graduate from there and have another son going to school there. Hopefully I had a helping hand in how that program is going now. . . . Pete Carroll has done a terrific job. I will have the same respect I have always had for them."

With one exception.

"Except on the Saturday afternoon when we go to work against them," Chow said.

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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