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BYU football: Norm Chow leads Warriors to familiar territory

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PROVO — Once again, Norm Chow is returning to BYU's campus.

Since leaving the Cougars in 2000 after 27 years as an assistant under LaVell Edwards, Chow has come back to Provo three times with three different teams.

When Hawaii visits BYU Friday (6 p.m. MT, ESPN) at Edwards Stadium, the 66-year-old Chow will return for the fifth time.

It will, however, be his first visit as a head coach.

Asked about his return to Provo, Chow didn't wax nostalgic.

"I had a very good experience in Provo and enjoyed my time there — a lot of nice memories and a lot of nice people," he said. "We've moved on from there. I've been a part of other teams that have gone in there. It's not about all that. It's about our team. We're struggling. We're at 1-2 and we need to play well. The results will take care of themselves if we play well and play hard."

Chow, one of the most accomplished offensive coordinators in college football history, took the reins of the Warrior program after the 2011 season. Last Saturday, Nevada crushed Hawaii, 69-24, as the Warriors allowed the Wolf Pack's Stefphon Jefferson to tie an NCAA record with seven touchdowns.

"It was 20-17, and the wheels fell off," Chow said of that performance. "We hung in there. Our guys played to the end. I like our team. I like our effort. Now we just have to have better results after all the work that they've put in."

Being a first-time head coach has been a learning experience, Chow said, now that he's in charge of, and responsible for, the entire program — not just the offense.

"It's a tremendous challenge. I didn't realize — I guess I did after all these years — what a head coach goes through. There's so much that takes away from the coaching part of it. That was an eye-opener."

And it's a whole new perspective. One of the things he's had to adjust to is being on the sidelines. For decades, as an offensive coordinator, he sat in the press box, calling plays. Now, he's on the sidelines, which he called "probably the worst seat in the house."

Added Chow, "It's not easy to see down there. You rely on the coaches up above to help you with what's going on."

In his three previous visits to Edwards Stadium as an opposing coach, Chow has experienced extreme differences.

In 2004, his USC team, which boasted a pair of future Heisman Trophy winners — Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush (later vacated) — dominated BYU, 42-10. Four years later, in 2008, the Cougars blanked Chow's UCLA team, 59-0. Then, last season, during his one-year stint at Utah, the Utes humiliated BYU, 54-10.

"He's an experienced and well-thought-of offensive coordinator," said Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall. "He has a good plan week-in and week-out, a good system, a good style. I'm sure he'll have a nice plan versus us. … They're well-coordinated. There's enough variety of plays, enough formations and enough things that are difficult in terms of getting tendencies because their coordinator's been doing it a long time. So basically, we're playing a similar style to what we've played the last two weeks (against Utah and Boise State). That part will help us as a point of reference."

Last spring, a controversy arose between Hawaii and BYU surrounding Michael Wadsworth, a defensive back who played as a freshman at Hawaii before leaving for an LDS mission. While serving, Wadsworth decided to transfer to BYU.

Hawaii allowed Wadsworth to transfer to any school — except BYU. Hawaii officials allege that BYU recruited Wadsworth during his mission, which is against NCAA rules.

"There was a little bit of tampering going on," Chow told ESPN's Outside the Lines in July.

Mendenhall has denied those accusations, and he reiterated that point this week when asked about it.

"It was just a unique situation that a young man went on his mission and, as many do, come back and then want to be at BYU for all kinds of reasons," Mendenhall said. "Faith is certainly part of it, maybe finding someone to marry is part of it and possibly really good football is part of it.

"We don't recruit when players are on their missions. We won't recruit when they're on their missions. When players want to transfer, the first thing that's usually signaled is foul play. But we won't, didn't and haven't violated any rules nor will we in the future. It's just unfortunate that anyone thought that we did."

Asked about his relationship with Chow, Mendenhall said, "Everyone makes mistakes. I'll greet him before the game just like anybody."

Wadsworth is currently on the BYU roster as a walk-on. He won't be allowed to be on scholarship until next season.

That just adds a little more intrigue for this year's showdown between BYU and Hawaii.

While Chow is downplaying his return to Provo and focusing on the game itself, he plans to get together with old friends and resume an old ritual while he's in town.

"I've still got my buddies and we'll probably still plan on going on a jog," Chow said. "Now it's a walk Friday morning before the game. That will bring back a lot of memories as we solve every problem in the world on our jog."

email: jeffc@desnews.com