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Times have changed for Norm Chow — and for BYU

SHARE Times have changed for Norm Chow — and for BYU
USC offensive coach Norm Chow and BYU head coach Gary Crowton share some thoughts last September.

USC offensive coach Norm Chow and BYU head coach Gary Crowton share some thoughts last September.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

Norm Chow returns to Provo this weekend.

There was a time when he never would have left.

That time was circa 1993 when BYU had an empowered, take-action-type athletic director named Glen Tuckett. That time changed when Tuckett "retired" and then was sought out and accepted the athletic directorship at problem-plagued football powerhouse Alabama.

Had Tuckett never left BYU, Chow would be dutifully employed at BYU, because over Tuckett's dead body, and a field strewn with shields and swords and the first-born of two generations, would Tuckett have let BYU's administration go back on high-level promises made to one, Dr. Norman Chow, Ph.d.

There was a lot that changed circa 1993. In those days Tuckett had worked closely with university presidents Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland and Rex Lee. These presidents got it all straight from a man who'd been in the trenches, had powerful connections to TV, bowls, other programs, other athletic directors. He was a man who'd worn a whistle, been on the sidelines, taped ankles, lived in hotels while recruiting, knew the game and could mentor coaches because he'd lived the life. He was the last great BYU athletic czar.

Those were the days an athletic director could sit in the president's office, take an hour or two, had an open-door policy and could hammer out facts from fiction, fan hype from reality, present issues instead of rumor.

These were the days BYU's CEO got it straight from the point man.

After Tuckett departed, a new administration (1996) inserted a new line of authority to BYU's president. It was an added a portal, a gateway, a protective sentinel, a layer of insulation.

Rondo Fehlberg, the second athletic director after Tuckett, started his tenure with vice president status, having direct contact with President Lee. That changed during Fehlberg's term, so the A.D. was under a different vice president. In the post-Rex Lee administration, this watered down the power of the athletic director position because many believed the director job had grown too strong on campus.

Or, as one national organization head told its managers: Always put a volunteer between you and a problem.

The new AD job would be a corporate model — a business or marketing specialist. After all, this was big business. Subsequent hires would fall on these lines. No need to give power, just "the look" and "the personality," because power shifted.

Today, there are volunteer "minders," retired successful businessmen and former power brokers, who associate with coaches and athletic department personnel almost daily but then mingle with the vice president and president. And report.

It's a Big Brother theory, intended to help not hurt. There are so many chiefs, wannabe chiefs and practicing chiefs that the actual chief is never identified. Well, he is, but he isn't.

There is also a time, circa 1994, I heard from a powerful booster, who'd talked to BYU's highest-paid authority that Dr. Chow would never, not ever be seriously considered to replace LaVell Edwards.

In 1999, after the Cougars lost to Marshall in the Motor City Bowl, the official word — if not the definitive word — was communicated officially to Chow. The word I got is "changes would be made" in the Cougar program. Within weeks, Chow accepted a job at North Carolina State and became both more famous and wealthy. By August, 2000, the 17th to be exact, Edwards announced his retirement.

In years since, this also became the advent of power and access to donors, big fund-raisers and creation of committees that successful and wealthy could work on. They became "advisers" to the president. Their greatest work to date is spearheading the new practice and student athlete facilities. Among these are the minders I've described.

If you understand this model, you understand how the contract of an athletic director could not be renewed after a big win over Notre Dame, how BYU will have gone through a half-dozen athletic directors since the early 90s, and how a successful but embattled basketball coach could be fired before Christmas.

And how Gary Crowton and Norm Chow might feel come Saturday in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Here are this week's predictions:

USC 34 BYU 21: If the Cougars can stop the turnover bleed, this may not be the blowout many have predicted. If not, get out the mop. The men of Troy will enjoy a win because their consistency isn't a project or work in progress, it's prime time, baby. Question of the day: Can John Beck play four quarters? Last time against USC, Beck left the field with a concussion.

UNLV 28, AIR FORCE 21: Rebs rebound from venture into Big Ten territory by bottling up the Falcons at Sam Boyd Stadium. The UNLV defense has the playmakers to stop Air Force's budding option prowess.

MINNESOTA 37 COLORADO STATE 17: The Ram defense is struggling but the offense provided USC plenty of gifts to make Sonny Lubick's club look exposed and vulnerable. Turnovers will tell the margin as CSU plays host for its visit of a BCS team to Fort Collins.

OREGON STATE 27, NEW MEXICO 21: Rocky Long delivered Texas Tech on a platter but getting this Beaver team — and early threat to LSU on the road — is too tall for the Lobos.

MICHIGAN 24, SAN DIEGO STATE 14: This is the wrong club at the wrong time and place for San Diego State's football team. Welcome to the Big House the week after Notre Dame took revenge.

UTAH 28, UTAH STATE 7: Urban Meyer's riding this ranking deal hard and high, and this stop will look more like a pony express watering hole than toil up a mountain pass. Sardine Canyon never looked like such an easy pull on paper.

RECORDS: Last week 4-2; overall 11-2 for .846