ELF: Helvetic Guards hire legendary NCAA offensive coordinator Norm Chow as head coach

Switzerland’s Helvetic Guards have announced their presence in the European League of Football with a bang, bringing in one of college football’s greatest quarterback whisperers to be the first head coach in franchise history.

Former University of Hawaii head coach Norm Chow has been tapped to lead the Zurich-based expansion team for the 2023 season, bringing with him over 50 years of coaching experience and two national championship rings from his time in the NCAA.

Having last served as offensive coordinator of the XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats during their pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Chow’s first foray into European football marks a new chapter in an illustrious career — one motivated by a desire to give back to the game at the grassroots level.

“As you go through the years coaching, you have time to reflect and you realize, I did anyway, how other people influenced you,” the 76-year-old coach said in a phone interview prior to the team’s official announcement. “People help, we didn’t get where we are alone. I looked back and I thought about all the people that helped me along the way. You get to a point in your career where, hey, maybe it’s time for me to do the same.”


Chow originally believed he had found an outlet for that desire on a different continent, travelling to China in order to give football clinics. With the pandemic rendering that enterprise difficult, he began to seriously consider offers in Europe and expressed interest in joining the staff in Zurich when a friend and coaching colleague was in the running to receive the top job.

That arrangement fell through, but Chow was quickly approached with his first head coaching gig since departing the Rainbow Warriors in 2015. It was not an opportunity he ever imagined, but that has been the story of his entire career.

An all-century team offensive lineman for the University of Utah, Chow was coaching high school ball and dreamed of being a school administrator when he took a graduate assistant job at Brigham Young University in 1973 as a way of helping to pay for his doctorate in education psychology. He wouldn’t leave BYU for 27 years, winning a consensus national title in 1984 and rising through the ranks all the way until he became the team’s offensive coordinator.

From there, Chow became one of the most coveted play-callers in the NCAA. He joined NC State in 2000, before jumping to the powerhouse USC Trojans the next year. He would take home the Broyles Award as college football’s top assistant just one season later and helped guide the team to a BCS National Championship in 2004. Chow would go on to coach with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans for three seasons, before stints with UCLA, Utah, and finally Hawaii.

The upper echelons of pro and college football are a different beast than what awaits him in Switzerland, but Chow has been impressed by what he’s seen from the ELF on tape. While he admits the amount of concepts he’s likely to install will be reduced due to the nature of European football, the drop in competition level will not pose a challenge.

“Football is football. You still have to block, you still have to tackle, you still have to know where you’re going. I don’t think there will be a huge transition,” Chow said. “I think the mistake a lot of people make at any level of football is they get too complicated. Pete Carroll  was a big proponent of just keeping it simple and playing as fast as you can.”

The most drastic difference might come at the quarterback position, where Chow has molded more marquee names than most coaches could ever dream of — a list that includes three Heisman Trophy winners and six first round NFL Draft picks from his college tenure.

At BYU, he worked alongside Hall of Famer Steve Young, Super Bowl winner Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer and Marc Wilson. Phillip Rivers was the NCAA’s top freshman during his one year stop at NC State, while future NFL starters Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Matt Cassels studied under him at USC. Even at the professional level, he guided Vince Young to a Pro Bowl appearance and Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in Tennessee and later helped XFL pivot Josh Johnson jump back to the NFL.

Whichever import lands the coveted job with the Guards will be far removed from that list of legends but Chow believes all had traits that can still be found in those who seek to continue their career overseas.

“I think the one common factor amongst all the players that I was fortunate enough to coach is that they’re good people and they’re smart and we need to find one of those,” he said, stressing the most important characteristic for a quarterback in his eyes.

“It’s all about being smart. I hear strong arms and athletic and all that. In my mind, you have to be smart and you have to understand and you can’t fool people.  You can’t fake being smart and the ability to execute and make the right read and throw it quickly.”

None of his former charges were perfect but each could elevate themselves thanks to that factor.

“I used to call Phillip Rivers the javelin thrower and he still throws it that way with a low elbow motion but gosh, all he did was throw completions,” Chow chuckled. “You don’t worry about release, you worry about the execution part, making sure the balls going to the right guy.”

The process of picking which guys will be on the receiving end of those passes will begin in October, when Chow will travel to Zurich for the first time in order to evaluate prospects at the team’s inaugural combine.

His resume will carry a weight like few others on the continent, but Chow does not view himself with the same iconic lens that others do. His career is a product of other seasoned football minds guiding him forward, an act he now seeks to pay forward with the Swiss.

“I was blessed to be around so many talented people who taught me to coach and how to be a husband and a father and all of that,” Chow said thoughtfully. “It’s just time; it really is time to share some of that with other people because I’ve been awfully blessed and awfully fortunate and, bottom line, awfully lucky.”

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.