PULLMAN – The setting will be familiar but the perspective will be alien when Jim Mastro paces the visiting sideline during his return to Nevada’s Mackay Stadium for Friday night’s game.
Though if Chris Ault – the most influential man in Wolf Pack football history – had his way, Washington State’s running-backs coach would be on the opposite side of the field, holding a head coach’s clipboard.
Ault has been the paterfamilias of Wolf Pack football since he became the head coach of then-NCAA Division II UNR in 1976. The former Wolf Pack quarterback never had a losing season when he stepped down after a 9-3 campaign in 1995 that saw the team go undefeated in the Big West.
Since 1986, he had pulled double-duty as athletic director, and when the time came in 2004 to dismiss coach Chris Tormey after five subpar seasons, Ault made himself coach.
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When a lack of institutional support and the prospect of having to turn over his defensive staff drove Ault to resign in 2012, Mastro – who left Nevada for UCLA in 2010 after 10 seasons with the Wolf Pack because of similar frustrations with the lack of resources given to the program – was his first choice for successor.
“Jim was the guy I was supporting because he knew the Nevada way,” Ault said. “We built this thing from the ground floor up and Jim saw all of it, and he was part of it, so he had a great understanding of where we came from, and that’s pretty important to know where you were and know where you want to go.”
Mastro was a holdover from Tormey’s staff, and within no time he became the head coach’s aide-de-camp. He coached the running backs and coordinated Nevada’s recruiting efforts.
“When we let Coach Tormey go, Jim was the first coach off that staff that I asked to stay,” Ault said.
And after a 5-7 record in Ault’s first season of his second stint as Nevada head coach – the only losing record of his coaching career – he and Mastro developed an offensive system that would eventually put Colin Kaepernick in the national spotlight before he became an NFL star and propel the former second-division program to its first appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 poll in more than 50 years.
The Pistol offense was constructed out of white tape over 10 days in February, when Ault and Mastro would sneak down to the Nevada locker room and conduct two-man walk-throughs, experimenting with different quarterback depths and running-back positions.