Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars mascot Butch celebrates in the crowd after a touchdown in the first quarter against the Colorado State Rams during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Anybody who follows Washington State recruiting knows that the Cougars have one of the best assistant recruiters in the Pac-12 Conference, right here, right now. They also know it’s been a pretty long time since a WSU staff has had such a commodity on its’ sidelines or in its’ offices.
He’s not the official recruiting coordinator and Mike Leach is the guy everybody points at when they want to come to Pullman to play their college ball. In fact all of the Cougar coaches are a pretty large part of recruiting in some regard. But the guy they call “Coach Joe” has, in my opinion, emerged as the key to the Cougs’ recruiting efforts and is the main reason WSU is on a major upward trend when it comes to putting together the best classes this University has ever seen. We’re not there yet, obviously the final product has to materialize, but it’s starting in that direction.
Consider this, WSU has never reeled in the top Polynesian-descent kids before (on a regular basis), much less a class full of them. Where do you see those top kids generally? California, USC, Arizona (where coincidentally Salave’a played and coached as an assistant for 2 seasons), Utah and then basically spread out a little bit around the conference. Before Tosh Lupoi’s little stunt(s), he was turning Washington into one of these schools as well, but I suspect they will start to drop off on these kids now (for a variety of reasons beyond the Lupoi situation as well).
Yes, the Don Sasa’s are indeed the exception, not the rule here at Wazzu, though they have come around every once in a while. But a couple schools historically rarely pick up any of the “top” prospects in this area and Washington State’s association in that category hasn’t helped when correlating wins and losses. There’s just a lot of untapped talent that is being missed or heading to other Pac-10/12 programs. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but getting a broader approach is clearly how WSU can compete in year-to-year talent. Salave’a is changing the culture in Pullman as it relates to who he’s even willing to go after.
Matter of fact, he’s offering the top guys all over the West and down into the Islands, without fail and without fear of rejection. It started with Ioane Gauta, Taylor Taliulu, Robert Barber, Justin Sagote and Destiny Vaeao in the first recruiting class. Considering four of the five have played big downs already for the Coug defense, that was a pretty solid job for half a recruiting cycle, much less a month and a half like he and Mike Leach had. The second class is still waiting in large part on playing time, but Lyman Faoliu, Daniel Ekuale and Emmit Su’a-Kalio all are thought to have big upside on the defensive line.
And it’s just continued, maybe catching the gem of 3 recruiting classes by beginning class number four with early four-star commit Thomas Toki from Kirkland just a few days ago. Of course he’s not relegated to Polynesian players and has had one of those big hands in plenty of other important signings/commits in these first three classes. He’s also still got rising DT Marcus Griffin from Bellevue interested in WSU. So yeah, he’ll never reel in all of the kids he wants, but he’s big for recruiting in the sense that he’ll reel in 3-5 a class and as he’s already shown, those commitments and even interests are starting to increase in talent by the year.
His on-field coaching at defensive line is solid too. He’s changed the identity quite a bit there as well, though the Cougars still have a long way to go. Part of that is being able to pull the recruits into the system that can make a difference there, especially when tasking a 3-4 defense like the Cougs do under defensive coordinator Mike Breske.
A few quiet reports have led us to believe that sneaky Sark at USC offered Coach Joe a few days ago to steal away in the night and become a part of the Trojans’ new coaching staff. That was a legitimate concern for Cougar fans but we’ve heard from sources close to the program that Salave’a isn’t interested. Sark is now apparently taking another run at keeping Ed Orgeron in the USC family, reportedly willing to pay upwards of $1.5 million for his services.
This is a sign that A.D. Bill Moos and Leach need to step up and show their commitment and lock Salave’a up right now. This past year he was one of the conferences lowest paid assistants at around $140,000. It’s unclear how much J.S. was offered originally from Sark, but if Orgeron declines the position, the Trojans may come back with a substantially lucrative offer for one of the Pac-12’s best recruiters, Salave’a. We also think there’s another on the table for the big Samoan, but we need him here, at least for now.
Can the Cougs compete with numbers like that? The simple answer is “no”, but in spite of the numbers, they have a lot of positives going for them right now that may make it worth passing up all that money for the time being. Joe’s family loves it in Pullman (the environment is most certainly family friendly), his ultimate goal is to become a head coach (Leach coaching tree is extensive, impressive and proven) and his success is leading directly from reviving a downtrodden program. Imagine if the Cougs take another huge step the next year or two just how impressive that resume becomes. With Leach’s propensity for promoting his coaches that’s got to be a huge draw to remain at Wazzu at least a little while longer.
Take the job at USC and he could easily be overshadowed for a while longer, not to mention the expectations in L.A. make it tougher to be successful as a coach, even if you overachieve. No doubt he would do an incredible job there, but is Sarkisian going to be around in five years at USC? We know Leach will be here at WSU (or at least I’d put my money on it, though the chances of big offers increase every time the Cougs overachieve like they did this season).
I don’t see Coach Joe going anywhere for now, but Washington State needs to step up for him and his family. He’s earned it and is vital to the success of this program as it stands. Not that all is lost if he does get a stupidly good offer and leaves, Leach has the contacts and pull to replace him suitably, not to mention a Pac-12 program on the rise is a fabulous draw for all different levels of coach with a good offer. But the short term affect could be somewhat devastating to the newest committed classes and Joe Salave’a is the one that deserves that type of offer anyway.
Of course we’d be remiss to not mention that he’s a fan-favorite here at Washington State and we’re not looking forward to the day when he’s standing on another teams’ sideline! So we ask that you go and get ’em locked up Cougs!