WSU defensive line coach Joe Salave'a is leaving Pullman to become defensive line coach at Oregon

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Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave’a is likely leaving to take the same position under Willie Taggart’s new staff at Oregon, the Seattle Times confirmed Monday evening through sources close to the situation.

Aaron Fentress of CSN Northwest broke the news Monday afternoon, reporting that Salave’a visited Eugene earlier this month and that the Ducks are close to hiring him away from WSU if they can successfully come to a deal.

Salave’a departure would be a big blow to WSU because of his recruiting prowess.

Salave’a joined Mike Leach’s WSU staff in 2012, and has been integral in WSU’s recruiting efforts ever since. He opened a pipeline for WSU to American Samoa, and developed current Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao, while coaching Hercules Mata’afa to Freshman All-American honors in 2015.

Per the details of a previous contract extension Salave’a signed with WSU in November 2015, the Cougars’ defensive line coach made $375,000 last year, and as of Jan. 1, would have made $400,000 at WSU through June 30, 2018.

Salave’a would join new Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s staff, which also includes former Lousiville safeties coach Keith Heyward, and cornerbacks coach Charles Clark, who followed Leavitt to Oregon from Colorado.

Salave’a’s impending departure is surprising because before the Cougars’ bowl game, he signed a contract extension that on paper, would keep him at WSU through June 2019. In December, Salave’a also denied rumors that he might be interested in joining Taggart’s staff in Eugene. He has previously turned down overtures from USC and UW.

When asked on Christmas Eve whether he saw himself at WSU long term, Salave’a told the Seattle Times, “We all signed up five years ago to build this program into what it is now, we’re all motivated as coaches in different ways. Some are motivated by money, some are motivated by the process. The intriguing thing here for me was being part of the process.”

“I was told by a coach once, if you truly want to get a feel for a job, you go to a place where you truly need to teach and truly need to wear different hats,” Salave’a said in that interview after the Cougars’ final bowl practice. “That’s how WSU came about. It was presented to me as a school that had had prior success, but they lost it. So I think it was more intriguing to me to take the challenge and be part of the building process, and I’m so grateful for the experience and of being able to be here this long.”

Still, 2016 was undoubtedly the toughest year Salave’a has had in Pullman. Salave’a was greatly troubled by the controversy that arose early this fall when four of his Samoan players were accused of crimes in a span of three months over the summer. The controversy led to Leach publicly accusing Pullman Police of targeting his players. It also resulted in the expulsion of defensive tackle Robert Barber, who’s sanction was later reduced to a suspension that Barber contested in court. Barber ultimately won a stay of his suspension and graduated in December.

But the whole saga took a toll on Salave’a who has served as a father figure for all the Samoan players he’s recruited to WSU. Even his wife, Josie, got personally involved in Barber’s case when she attended a public meeting before the WSU board of regents in November and spoke in Barber’s defense.

“You always try to grow your guys to make the wise decision. If you’re an athlete, you don’t have a margin of error, you’re being looked at in different light,” Salave’a said in December. “Therefore it was one of those deals where you have to make the ultimate sacrifice because you’re not a normal student.”

To compound matters, Salave’a made two impromptu trips to Samoa last fall because of deaths in his family. He lost his father-in-law two weeks into the season, then found out a few weeks later that his father in Samoa had also passed away. Salave’a missed the Colorado game because he was attending his father’s funeral in Samoan. He also lost an uncle at the end of November.

“It’s part of the profession, you can’t bring those (issues) to the workplace, so you’re just trying to be there for the kids,” Salave’a said in December. “That was the biggest thing that allowed me to get through the season, but it was something I would never place on anybody to go through.”

Salave’a and his wife have two children, Katalina Elizabeth, and Joseph Fatuimoana Jr.

WSU Athletics spokesperson Bill Stevens declined to comment on the situation.

Oregon Athletics spokesperson Dave Wiliford said Monday that the Ducks have not announced anything and cannot confirm anything at this point.

If Salave’a leaves, he’ll be the second assistant Leach has had to replace this offseason. Inside receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard left WSU for Purdue last month and was replaced by former Toledo receivers coach Derek Sage, whose hire was announced last week.