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Norm Chow appears finished as UCLA offensive coordinator

UCLA FOOTBALL

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson seems set to join the Bruins.

January 12, 2011|By Chris Foster

Norm Chow appears to be out as UCLA's offensive coordinator, but whether the coach will remain with the Bruins or leave the program hasn't been determined.

Mike Johnson, most recently the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, appears set to take a similar position with UCLA, according a person inside the Bruins football program who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

UCLA spokesman Marc Dellins said Wednesday that Johnson had not been hired. But a person in the program with knowledge of the situation said head Coach Rick Neuheisel had interviewed Johnson and they had been talking.

Neuheisel did not return phone calls or text messages.

Adding Johnson to the staff would leave Chow two options: Take a demotion and become a position coach, or accept a buyout to leave. The veteran assistant just last summer agreed to a guaranteed two-year contract extension worth about $1 million. Chow also did not return messages on Wednesday.

Dan Guerrero, UCLA's athletic director, declined to discuss the issue of paying off a coach's contract but added, "We will do what we have to do depending on the direction Rick chooses to go."

Neuheisel fired defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough last month after a 4-8 season. Bullough had one year remaining on his contract at $325,000.

Johnson, 43, spent the past two seasons with the 49ers, the first as quarterbacks coach and the past season as offensive coordinator. However, San Francisco recently fired head coach Mike Singletary and hired Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, so that staff is in flux.

Johnson and Neuheisel worked together as assistants with the Baltimore Ravens in 2006 and 2007. Johnson also coached in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers. His previous college experience was at Oregon State from 1997 to 1999.

Chow was considered a coup for the Bruins when he was hired in 2008. UCLA immediately began selling Neuheisel, Chow and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker as the trio that would bring an end to USC's dominance in football and make the Bruins a power. The three were introduced in a coming-out ceremony during a UCLA basketball game in January 2008.

Only Neuheisel remains, and the Bruins are 15-22 in his three seasons.

UCLA made little effort to retain Walker, who left to become the head coach at New Mexico State after the 2008 season. Chow became the focal point of frustration by some high-end boosters after the Bruins finished this past season by losing six of their last seven games.

UCLA's switch to the "Pistol" offense this season left Chow coaching philosophies different from his beliefs, most notably having the quarterback in a modified shotgun formation four yards behind center. UCLA's running game improved, but the Bruins finished 116th nationally in passing offense and 118th in passing efficiency.

The Bruins averaged 17.7 points in 2008, 22.0 in 2009 and 20.2 last season, the three lowest scoring averages of Chow's 26 years as a college offensive coordinator.

Chow's position has been tenuous since November, when Neuheisel declined to commit to him when repeatedly asked during a news conference whether Chow would return as offensive coordinator. Neuheisel said only that he would evaluate the situation after the season.

Chow has enjoyed success at every other stop, winning national titles at Brigham Young and USC. He developed quarterbacks Ty Detmer, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, all Heisman Trophy winners. He also put North Carolina State's Philip Rivers and BYU's Steve Young, among others, on the path to the NFL.

chris.foster@latimes.com

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