The list of quarterbacks who honed their craft thanks to the offensive mind of Norm Chow is a who’s who of Heisman Trophy winners and Pro Bowl selections. However, those two honors have never had any correlation for him.
Steve Young didn’t win a Heisman, but he is a Hall of Famer. Philip Rivers didn’t win college football’s grandest award, but he is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL right now. Ty Detmer did win the Heisman, but an NFL career never matriculated from it. Only Carson Palmer used Chow’s tutelage to win a Heisman and become a Pro Bowl quarterback at the next level.
Now with a chance to start for the Arizona Cardinals, Matt Leinart has a chance to join Palmer. Or Detmer. What’ll it be?
UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow joined ESPN Radio Los Angeles with Mason and Ireland to discuss the biggest challenge right now for his Bruins’ offense, the loss of center Kai Maiava to broken ankle, the most important attribute of a quarterback, the NFL struggles of Matt Leinart, why some of his understudies succeed in the NFL and some don’t, Leinart’s accuracy in throwing downfield and what it will take for UCLA to have a successful season.
On his biggest challenge with the UCLA offense:
“Probably the football season (laughs). I’m kidding, We have had a good few weeks of practice. It’s staying healthy. Unfortunately we’ve been snake-bit a little bit with injuries. Injuries happen to a lot of programs, it’s just the nature of the game. We’d like to get to a point in our program where we have the depth [we need] and right now we’re not [there].”
On losing center Kai Maiava for most of the year:
“It’s big because Kai is not only our physical leader but our emotional leader. He brought a lot of toughness to us. He brought a lot of knowledge to us. He knew the center position and knew all the calls that he had to make. And off the field he was an emotional, spiritual leader that we really need to keep the team together. Other guys have to take up that spot.”
On the most important attribute for a quarterback:
“I think it’s just the smarts. Someone that can take over a game, someone that can show leadership, someone that can get out of a bad call, get out of a bad look. We make a call and anticipate a certain defense and then see something completely different and his ability to get out of that. I think that’s the common thread amongst all the good quarterbacks — the ability to think and make adjustments.”
On why some of his quarterbacks make it at the next level and some don’t and whether he feels Matt Leinart will make it:
“I tell you what, don’t write [Matt Leinart] off. I’m still convinced that he will have an extremely, extremely successful career. You know, he started out well and then whatever happened, happened, but I still think he’s going to have a terrific career. … I’ve talked with him over the offseason, I know how hard he’s working, how much this means to him. I don’t have any question in my mind that he’s going to be successful at that level. … I know Matt Leinart will be a success in the NFL because he has that ability to do the things that are necessary, just as Philip Rivers did. Carson [Palmer] got a chance to sit and learn from [Jon] Kitna and Philip got a chance to learn from [Drew] Brees. Matt was thrown right into the fire, then he had a chance to sit behind [Kurt] Warner and now it’s his turn to take it over.”
On Leinart’s confidence, particularly in throwing accurately downfield:
“I don’t know that, but that would surprise me because one of Matt’s big assets in his accuracy. I’m not so sure you can teach accuracy. You teach footwork and you teach velocity and all that. I’m not so sure you can teach accuracy and I always thought Matt Leinart was very accurate with his throws.”
On what would constitute a successful season at UCLA:
“If you’re looking at wins and losses, I have no idea. I think success comes with when our guys are playing as well as they can play. The ball bounces kind of funny. … We were 7-6 last year and we have to do better than that. So if you want to assign a number, I’m sure it would 8-4, 9-3, whatever. … We feel like we’re a lot better.”
Listen to the interview with Norm Chow on ESPN Radio Los Angeles here (Interview starts just after the 20-minute mark)