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WSU defensive line coach Joe Salave’a likely leaving for Oregon

Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave’a watches from the sidelines against Wyoming Sept. 19, 2015, in Pullman. Salave’a now coaches at Oregon. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave’a watches from the sidelines against Wyoming Sept. 19, 2015, in Pullman. Salave’a now coaches at Oregon. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – There may still be some dollars to negotiate and HR paperwork to fill out, but with every passing day it appears more likely that Joe Salave’a is leaving Washington State to become the defensive line coach at Oregon under new coach Willie Taggart.

Multiple news outlets have reported that Salave’a and Taggart are close to a deal. Even Salave’a’s Wikipedia page has been updated to show him coaching the Ducks. WSU defensive linemen Daniel Ekuale and Hercules Mata’afa have each sent out cryptic tweets that appear to imply that next year’s game against UO will carry some personal meaning because of Salave’a’s departure.

There’s no doubt his absence will be felt in Pullman. In addition to coaching the defensive line, Salave’a was promoted to associate head coach and compensated accordingly. He was scheduled to make $400,000 for the upcoming year.

As a coach, Salave’a developed all-conference defensive linemen such as Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao, who is with the Philadelphia Eagles. He created a recruiting pipeline between WSU and American Samoa, where Salave’a was born, landing native Samoans such as Robert Barber, Shalom Luani, Vaeao and others.

Even more so than most assistant coaches, Salave’a had a paternal role for the players he recruited, many of whom were living far from home and unable to see their families for years at a time.

At various points throughout his four years at WSU, Salave’a made comments that he had a duty to shepherd those players he recruited through college and ensure they graduated. Because he is widely respected in coaching circles he had opportunities to leave, and reportedly turned down overtures from USC and Washington.

But 2016 was a hard year on Salave’a and his wife, Josie. Four of the players he recruited from American Samoa, and took into his home frequently, were arrested for various crimes over the summer prior to the 2016 football season.

The controversy broiled for much of the season. Barber was expelled and then reinstated. Logan Tago was suspended, but his case is now under review. Head coach Mike Leach and other members of the WSU staff felt that football players were being targeted by the Pullman police, making it harder to sell Salave’a’s vision of Pullman as a safe place for American Samoan football players to study and play the game.

Josie Salave’a spoke on Barber’s behalf at a board of regents meeting, saying the controversies had been particularly hard on the Salave’as and the Polynesian community.

It appeared those troubles were behind Salave’a when he recently agreed to a contract extension that would keep him in Pullman until 2019. But now it seems all but certain that Salave’a will join Taggart’s staff, which includes defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and cornerbacks coach Charles Clark, both of whom coached at Colorado last season, and former Louisville safeties coach Keith Hayward.

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