HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – It would have been hard to blame Mike Leach for giving Chip Kelly or Mario Cristobal a subtle jab at some point Wednesday.
The exodus of five Washington State assistant coaches was a well-documented scene from the Cougars’ dramatic offseason. The head coaches who poached three of those assistants joined the WSU boss for Wednesday’s Pac-12 Football Media Day festivities.
Kelly reached deep into his coaching tree while building his staff at UCLA, hiring former Cougars outside receivers coach Derek Sage – a former colleague at New Hampshire – to work with the Bruins’ tight ends.
The first-year Bruins coach, who entered college football lore after a memorable four-year stint at Oregon, said, regarding Sage, “Whenever I got a job at the college level, he’s someone I knew I wanted to reach out to.
“I had a great understanding for what he’s all about … we’re real excited he’s coaching our tight ends.”
Kelly plucked another former Cougars assistant, Roy Manning, to coach special teams and outside linebackers at UCLA. The Bruins coach hired Manning on the recommendation of former WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch – now the co-DC at Ohio State – who had a prior relationship with Kelly.
“Really needed a special teams coordinator and I think he’s a rising star in this profession,” Kelly said. “So I was excited to get those guys.”
One of Cristobal’s first hires at Oregon was ex-Cougars running backs coach Jim Mastro, who left WSU after six seasons to pursue a new challenge with the Ducks. Mastro is the running backs coach at Oregon, but his job description also now includes the title of run game coordinator.
“Mastro is awesome,” Cristobal said. “We went to Mastro’s Steakhouse last night, that was pretty awesome, too. But Jim Mastro is an exceptional teacher. That’s what hit me first right between the eyes when he came in and interviewed at the University of Oregon.”
Mastro’s departure was perhaps the hardest one for Cougar fans to swallow. The man who helped Chris Ault develop the Pistol offense at Nevada was one of WSU’s longest-tenured assistants when he left and was adored by Cougars tailbacks who played under him.
“He is an exceptional coach, exceptional teacher, exceptional leader, and brings some ideas to the table that are a little foreign to what we’ve done at Oregon, even what we did at Alabama and Oklahoma State,” Cristobal said. “So I think the wrinkles that he’s going to bring into the offense are really going to help us.”
Joe Salave’a, another former aide of Leach’s, is on Cristobal’s Oregon staff, though he was hired one year earlier by since-departed Ducks coach Willie Taggart.
Cristobal singled out Salave’a while mentioning the assistant coaches who’ve been pivotal to Oregon’s recruiting efforts.
“I can’t say enough about Joe Salave’a, Keith Heyward, Marcus Arroyo, Mastro. All these guys get after it,” he said.
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