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Running backs coach Jim Mastro leaves Washington State for same title at Oregon

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 20, 2018

Washington State running backs coach Jim Mastro is leaving the Cougars to take the same job at the University of Oregon. (Jim Simpkins / Courtesy)
Washington State running backs coach Jim Mastro is leaving the Cougars to take the same job at the University of Oregon. (Jim Simpkins / Courtesy)

PULLMAN – Jim Mastro, the running backs coach who gave life to the ground game at Washington State and won a few major recruiting battles along the way, has accepted the same position at the University of Oregon, according to multiple reports.

Mastro had been linked to the job for more than a week and apparently accepted the Ducks’ offer last week, but he “wanted this week to be all about Tyler Hilinski and his family,” Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman reported. The Cougars are still mourning the death of Hilinski, the WSU quarterback who committed suicide Tuesday.

One of the longest-tenured assistant coaches on Mike Leach’s staff, Mastro leaves Pullman after five years of reshaping and rebuilding WSU’s run game – often the lost dimension of Leach’s pass-based Air Raid offense. In 2016 and 2017, Mastro’s running backs posted back-to-back seasons of 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving – something that hadn’t been done previously at WSU.

Under Mastro’s tutelage, Jamal Morrow became one of the most productive offensive players in school history and finished with 4,219 all-purpose yards, third most all-time at WSU. A two-time All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention player, he scored 23 career touchdowns, which ranks seventh all time.

Mastro becomes the third Leach assistant to leave WSU for Oregon, and the second in as many years. Former Ducks coach Willie Taggart hired defensive line coach Joe Salave’a from the Cougars shortly after he was hired in December 2016. David Yost was Leach’s inside receivers coach for three seasons before fleeing to Eugene to become the QBs coach and passing game coordinator. Salave’a is still on the Ducks staff, but Yost now coaches at Utah State.

Nearly one month before his departure, Mastro, who was also renowned for his proficiency on the recruiting trail, delivered the Cougars a final gift by convincing highly touted three-star running back prospect Max Borghi to sign with the Cougars. Borghi chose WSU over Pac-12 North rival Stanford – usually a dream destination for running back prospects – and did so largely because of the relationship he’d forged with Mastro.

“It’s a dream school itself, just with what coach Mastro’s done with the last running backs,” Borghi told The Spokesman-Review in December. “And how they plan to use me, I’m excited. … (Mastro) is someone I really enjoy being around and I know I can get coached by.”

Before his stint with the Cougars, Mastro spent 11 seasons with the University of Nevada and is recognized as a co-developer of the Pistol offense, alongside former Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault. There, he coached Colin Kaepernick and helped Nevada become the first school in FBS history to produce three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season (Kaepernick, Vaia Taua and Luke Lippincott).

Mastro is the third assistant to leave WSU this offseason. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch left to become a co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State and outside linebackers coach Roy Manning accepted a position as the special teams coordinator at UCLA.

According to a public USA Today database listing FBS assistant coaching salaries, Mastro earned the seventh-highest salary of WSU assistants in 2017, making a base annual sum of $251,500.

His replacement will inherit a running backs group that includes James Williams, a 420-yard rusher in 2017 whose 71 receptions were best among both receivers and running backs. Williams scored seven touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore. The Cougars also return Keith Harrington and bring in Borghi, who’s already on campus and could have a prominent role in the offense as a true freshman.

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