Anytime an assistant coach leaves, it can be tough to fill the void he left behind. Mike Leach may now have his toughest task yet in replacing a coach as defensive line and assistant head coach Joe Salave’a has reportedly decided to leave WSU for conference rival Oregon. The news was first reported by Aaron Fentress.
Although Oregon hasn’t formally announced the hire yet, it has since been confirmed by numerous other outlets. A Hercules Mata’afa tweet from last night also seems to indicate his coach has decided to depart for Eugene.
Oregon vs wsu 2017— Hercules Mata'afa (@herculesuluao50) January 10, 2017
Salave’a’s departure follows the report that he actually had or was close to signing a contract extension with WSU. Reports had surfaced before the Holiday Bowl that Willie Taggart was trying to lure Salave’a onto his coaching staff at Oregon, something Salave’a didn’t outright deny before the Cougs’ bowl game.
So why is Salave’a leaving on this go around rather than the previous ones? The answer is probably money. Oregon just emptied the money dump truck to hire Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt so it wouldn’t be surprising if Oregon gave him a substantial raise from what would’ve been a $400,000 salary in 2017. Salave’a had previously stayed with Leach because of his reputation for getting assistants promoted but with little traction in that area, a change of scenery might be Salave’a thought he needed as well.
The hole Salave’a leaves on the WSU coaching staff is a substantial one. He was responsible for bringing over more than a dozen players from American Samoa to Pullman and he was a bit of a father figure for those players while they were thousands of miles from home. He also helped put Xavier Cooper and Destiny Vaeao into the NFL.
Although Salave’a’s coaching on the defensive line has been outstanding the last few years — particularly in terms of developing players — and he’s brought numerous players from Polynesia, the depth of defensive line recruiting has been somewhat questionable the last two seasons. WSU currently has just two defensive linemen committed in their 2017 class, neither of which play the important position of nose tackle position. The Cougs are precariously thin at that position heading into 2017 with Robert Barber’s graduation, and unless a surprise recruit pops up in the next few weeks, it will likely remain that way.
Whoever Mike Leach replaces Salave’a with, the recruiting for big bodies in the front of Alex Grinch’s 3-4 defensive scheme must improve. The chances of that happening before signing day in three weeks? Probably not so good.