PROVO — Norm Chow is 66 now, and while the Hawaii Warriors coach still has his buddies at BYU, he jokes that their game-day morning jog around Provo has slowed to a walk.
"That will bring back a lot of memories as we solve every problem in the world there is to solve on our jog," Chow said as he prepared to face his former team for the first time as a head coach in a nationally televised game Friday night.
Right now, there are plenty.
The Warriors (1-2, 0-1 Mountain West) are coming off a 45-point home loss to conference foe Nevada. The 69 points were the most ever allowed at Aloha Stadium, and the seven touchdowns Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson scored tied an NCAA record.
Chow won’t get much sympathy from the Cougars (2-2), even if he spent 27 years at BYU (1973-1999), from graduate assistant to offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, and helped the team win a national championship in 1984.
The first-year Hawaii coach stirred things up in July when he reiterated the university’s position that a returning missionary, defensive back/return specialist Michael Wadsworth, could transfer to any school except BYU and intimated the Cougars engaged in unfair recruiting.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall denied the not-so-veiled accusations when Wadsworth finally was allowed to join the team in August as a walk-on while waiting a year to play.
"Never has happened, nor will it happen," Mendenhall said of illegal recruiting.
He reiterated those comments this week.
"It was just a unique situation where a young man went on his mission, and as many do, (when they) come back, want to be at BYU," Mendenhall said, citing faith, football and marriage as reasons often given.
"We don’t recruit when players are on their missions. We won’t recruit when they’re on their missions. And when players want to transfer, the first thing that is 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 might think that we did."
Despite the controversy, Mendenhall doesn’t expect it will affect his relationship with Chow.
"Everyone makes mistakes and I’ll greet him before the game just like I would anybody," Mendenhall said.
Chow, meanwhile, has preferred to look forward not back.
"I’ve been back three times since we left Provo," he said of wins over BYU as coordinator at USC (in 2004) and Utah (2011) and a 59-0 loss as a UCLA assistant in 2008. "I had a very good experience in Provo, enjoyed my time there. I have a lot of nice memories, but we moved on from there. ... It’s not about all that. It’s about our team. We’re struggling."
BYU isn’t exactly lighting it up, either.
After dominating Washington State and Weber State, the Cougars have endured stinging back-to-back road losses to Utah and No. 24 Boise State by a combined four points.
Quarterback Riley Nelson is questionable because of a sore back, and freshman Taysom Hill will start if Nelson isn’t deemed ready.
Combined, the two QBs had just 61 yards passing against Boise State, a situation that had Cougars offensive coordinator Brandon Doman feeling almost as old as Chow, his coach for two seasons (1998-1999) at BYU.
"He’s one of the greatest offensive minds of all time," Doman said of Chow’s points-producing resume.
So how does the former student contend with that in this game?
"I’m not the greatest offensive mind of all time," Doman said with a laugh. "I’d love for somebody to say that when I’m his age, but right now I’m a long ways away."
Facing Chow’s defense could be the tonic Doman and BYU’s struggling offense need.
While BYU ranks 91st nationally in total offense, Hawaii is 116th in scoring defense, allowing 40 points a game.
"It’s a high-risk, high-reward defense," Doman said, "so they’ll take a lot of risk and hopefully we don’t give them any rewards."
Conversely, the Cougars’ seventh-ranked defense can be game-changing even if it lost senior defensive end Eathyn Manumaleuna to a torn patellar tendon in his left knee in the 7-6 loss to Boise State.
At least the Cougars and their young offensive linemen won’t be struggling to hear the calls now that the team is home again.
"We’re not panicking,’ BYU wide receiver JD Falslev said. "We know what we’re capable of. We’re just not performing."
If it doesn’t happen against Hawaii, it may not happen. Next up for the Cougars are games against the rejuvenated Utah State Aggies (who beat Utah), No. 18 Oregon State and No. 10 Notre Dame.
Chow, meanwhile, already has faced a top-ranked squad as Hawaii lost its opener, 49-10, to another former team, then-No. 1 USC.
He can only hope the result this time is different.
As for the reception he’ll receive after so many years wearing blue and white, Chow isn’t worried.
"I have no idea," he said. "Again, it’s not about me."