Editor's note: This is the eighth of a 10-part summer series rating the top D-I college football coaches in the country. From position coaches to head coach, Dennis Dodd and you, the community, will compile an All-Star team of the nation's top 10 coaches. Next up: Defensive coordinators.
Norm Chow, UCLA
Ben Olson has earned this shot. So have a lot of octogenarians with walkers, but they can't throw a tight spiral. Both the old and the Olson do have a shared trait, though: Battered, stretched and worn limbs. In this case, whether you're a senior at UCLA or in the eyes of the AARP, it's never too early to be looking forward to meeting your savior.
|Norm Chow -- a gift to any quarterback. (US Presswire)|
Olson is fired up. He can't help it. Norm Chow is his fourth offensive coordinator in the quarterback's four seasons at UCLA. That is usually not a good thing. Benjamin James Olson, though, is lucky beyond belief. No offense to his previous OCs but the inconsistent, often-injured quarterback just inherited the best person to teach him consistency. Maybe the best ever. That's why it was easy for Chow to be the offensive coordinator of CBSSports.com's dream staff.
In college football's 138-year history, a comparative handful of quarterbacks have been able to kneel at the throne of the 62-year-old master. Three of those chosen few have won Heismans (Ty Detmer, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart). Detmer was the NCAA's career passing leader for 13 years until he was passed by Hawaii's Tommy Chang four years ago.
Olson, a 25-year-old senior, gets his chance this season. One and done under the Yoda of the offensive playbook.
"I'm very excited," Olson said. "Coach Chow, he brings that instant credibility and respect."
Forget our little summer project. Chow has won national assistant coach awards in his three-decade career. In that time, he has been a part of three national championships and coached four of the top nine all-time pass efficiency leaders. Asking Chow to name his favorite is like asking parents to name their favorite child. Still ...
"I don't think I enjoyed a year of coaching more than the year I did with Philip Rivers," he said.
You see, Chow had his one-and-done season too. In 2000, following 18 years at BYU, he was the offensive coordinator for one season at North Carolina State. That year Rivers became a freshman All-American throwing for 3,054 yards, basically kicking off what is now a top-shelf NFL career. Rivers eventually became one of the six first-round quarterback draft choices who were taught by Chow.
The molder of quarterbacks has an eager student waiting in Westwood.
|Tight End Coaches|
|Wide Receivers Coaches|
|Running Backs Coaches|
|Defensive Line Coaches|
|Offensive Line Coaches|
"You don't get that (teaching) as much in the NFL. They're kind of set in their ways. You miss that," said Chow who spent the last three seasons with the Tennessee Titans. "Here it's, 'Hey coach, whatever you want.' You have a little more influence on a young man's life."
Olson should be excited. Disappointment has become common. He originally committed to BYU (post Chow, by the way) in 2002. A redshirt year was followed by a two-year Mormon mission to Calgary. When Olson returned, it was assumed he would return to BYU but he opened up his recruiting much to the consternation of Cougars fans.
BYU had stumbled. It was 9-14 when Olson was on his mission. Coach Gary Crowton had resigned. Arizona State, Cal and, yes, USC jumped on Olson. Steve Spurrier made him a priority heading into his first season at South Carolina. Seldom had there been what amounted to a 22-year-old, five-star free agent. Sign him and he's yours right away.
UCLA was the winner but UCLA didn't win -- enough. Last year's 6-7 season cost Karl Dorrell his job.
Injuries cost Olson playing time and, at least until now, a stellar career. In three seasons he has 10 starts. Two years ago he tore his left MCL. Last season was a mess at quarterback for UCLA. Four players, including Olson, started. In April he broke his foot. When asked about his mobility heading into the season, Olson said: "It's definitely something I've got to work hard on in July. My calf has atrophied."
Officially, there will be a competition in the fall with juco transfer Kevin Craft, but everyone expects Olson to get his shot under Chow. Late lightning has struck before. Before Rivers, there was Palmer who heated up in the last half of his senior season under Chow to win the 2002 Heisman.
"I only have one season. I've got to make the most of it," Olson said. "I just want to be like a sponge here."
Chow will never say it but he makes a huge difference in Westwood on several levels. He is an athletic icon for the cultures he represents: His heritage is Chinese-Hawaiian. The man is totally relaxed working only 16 miles from the home he never sold when he went to the NFL. Olson's new coordinator also is Mormon. Both teacher and student have BYU ties.
|Pos.||Dennis Dodd||Community Users|
|HC||Pete Carroll, USC||Pete Carroll|
|DC||Jim Heacock, Ohio State||Tom Bradley, Penn State|
|OC||Norm Chow, UCLA||Norm Chow|
|LB||Brian Cabral, Colorado||Luke Fickell, Ohio St.|
|OL||Pat Ruel, USC||Hugh Nall, Auburn|
|DL||Rodney Garner, Georgia||John Blake, N. Carolina|
|DB||Chuck Heater, Florida||Bobby Jack Wright, Okla.|
|RB||Cale Gundy, Oklahoma||Eddie Gran, Auburn|
|WR||Erik Campbell, Iowa||Andy Hill, Missouri|
|TE||Bruce Walker, Missouri||Bruce Walker|
Bruins loyalists already are looking forward to Chow's presence heating up the bitter USC-UCLA rivalry. The team he used to beat regularly now has him as a weapon in this annual Battle of Los Angeles. Think of Rick Pitino in a Tommy Bahama silk shirt.
"We're not trying to cure cancer here," Chow said trying to diffuse the situation, "It's fun."
Look for UCLA to be in on most of the nation's best quarterbacks too. The kid who might be the next Bruins quarterback already is on final approach from high school. Richard Brehaut, from nearby Rancho Cucamonga, committed in the spring and will be a key piece of the 2009 recruiting class.
"I've always wanted to be a Bruin, but coach Chow really was the deciding factor in my decision," Brehaut said. "I was thinking, 'Wow, how can I pass that up, me being a quarterback?' I can't wait to get out there and start learning from the best."
Seven others to consider:
Gary Crowton, LSU: It only seemed that Crowton called the right play at the right time, every time during the Tigers' national championship season. Sure, he had elite athletes to call on but the call in the Auburn game alone showed that Crowton has some sizeable brass lurking somewhere below the belt.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: There was some mild criticism when the Seminoles scored fewer points after replacing Jeff Bowden with Jimbo. It should have been muted. Fisher won a national championship at LSU and helped make JaMarcus Russell a No. 1 overall draft choice.
This is a long-term project and Fisher hasn't lost his touch. It's good enough for me that Bobby Bowden thought Jimbo was good enough to replace him at some future date. In his first season, Fisher did land two of his offensive linemen on the Football Writers' Association of America freshman All-America team.
Chip Kelly, Oregon More and more folks are beginning to believe Kelly will be the next head coach at Oregon when Mike Bellotti retires. Like everyone on this list, Kelly is an offensive mastermind. The difference is, at age 43, he's just getting started in I-A. In Kelly's first season at Oregon, Dennis Dixon became a Heisman frontrunner before an unfortunate season-ending injury.
Kelly is part of the New Hampshire Mafia that includes two other names on this list. Florida's Dan Mullen (born in Manchester, N.H.) and LSU's Crowton (coached at New Hampshire). In the same position at I-AA New Hampshire, Kelly oversaw the offense's transition from ground-based to record-breaking spread.
Steve Logan, Boston College: In Logan's first season at Boston College, Matt Ryan became the ACC Player of the Year and a Heisman frontrunner. Here's what most people don't know: Logan has to be equally as proud of Anthony Castonzo. As a 19-year-old freshman, Castonzo started at right tackle and was part of a line that allowed only 22 sacks in 659 pass attempts. The winningest head coach in East Carolina history can also give you a good wine recommendation.
Gus Malzahn, Tulsa: In two years, Malzahn went from mowing down Arkansas high school competition to being head of the first major-college offense to produce a 5,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers. In between, he was involved in the Arkansas mess which says more about Arkansas than this budding coaching talent.
Mullen, Florida: Coaching a No. 1 draft choice (Alex Smith) and Heisman winner (Tim Tebow). Winning a national championship in between. That would be a nice career for any coach. Mullen has accomplished all three in the last four years. Urban Meyer's right-hand man might have his most talented offense heading into '08 as Tim Tebow tries to make it back-to-back Heismans.
Steve Sarkisian, USC One of Norm Chow's quarterbacks at BYU, Sarkisian has taken that knowledge to the mountaintop in Troy. Sark was good enough to be offered the Raiders job but wisely saw his future, for now, is best served coaching Heisman candidates.