On offense, Chow scrapped the wide-open run-and-shoot attack, which Hawaii had employed for more than a decade, in favor of the more conventional pro-set. Karl Kawachi, a die-hard fan who’s been following the program since the early 1970s, says: “We just didn’t have the horses. Until last year, we’ve been using smaller, quicker players who were suited for the run-and-shoot offensive system. It’s much more difficult to go from that system to a more traditional, power-style football.” Adds season ticket holder Sean Eyman, who’s been attending UH football games since 1980, “It was like trying to put square pegs into round holes.”
Saddled with injuries and inconsistent play, the new offense sputtered, posting just 21.2 points a game—placing last in the Mountain West Conference and 100th among the 120 NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Still, Chow refused to switch up his strategy. “What made me mad was the game against BYU,” recalls Eyman. “In the fourth quarter, when we were down 40 points, we kept running the ball straight into the pile. It looked like Chow had given up, that he wasn’t even trying to score.” The Rainbow Warriors had 398 pass attempts in 2012, down from 598 the previous year. “It seemed Chow was stuck in ‘My way, my way, my way,’” says Eyman. “Well, it was pretty clear that his way wasn’t working until the end of the season, when he started to open the offense up.”
The Rainbow Warriors stumbled to a 3-9 record in 2012, including a woeful 1-7 in its Mountain West Conference debut. At one point, the team endured an eight-game losing streak, including lopsided losses to arch-rivals Nevada (69-24), Brigham Young (47-0), Fresno State (45-10) and Boise State (49-14).
John Veneri, a former UH player who played on the 1992 Holiday Bowl championship team, sees a method to the madness. “You have to understand that, to a degree, Coach Chow adapted his offense to the players he had,” explains Veneri, who now provides analysis for Rainbow Warrior games on ESPN 1420. “He had an offensive line that really struggled, and you had a quarterback (Sean Schroeder) who was getting pounded every game. So running the ball so much may have been boring, but it probably saved the quarterback’s life.” Eyman nods in agreement. “I’ve seen pinatas take less of a beating than Schroeder did,” he says, wincing at the thought.
“We have a reason for doing the things we do,” says Chow. “My job as a coach is to put our players in a position to be successful. If that means running the ball, we’re going to run. If it means throwing, we’re going to throw. We’re trying to win football games. I can’t help what other people say or think.”
Any coach in his first season gets a pass. But it only lasts a certain amount of time. “Ten years ago, a head coach would probably get three to five years to get his system in place,” says Veneri. “These days, it’s probably only two years. Considering how much coaches are getting paid now, and how competitive college football has become, fans are a little less forgiving. I think Hawaii fans are willing to give Norm Chow a little more leniency because, one, he’s a local boy who’s returned home, and, two, he’s had to deal with so many changes within the program.”