Stoops hires a tough guy in ex-Wildcat Joe Salave’aby Anthony Gimino on Dec. 16, 2010, under Sports
I was walking with Arizona Wildcats defensive end Brooks Reed after practice on Sunday, and I asked him if he had a chance to meet Joe Salave’a, who was on his job interview to replace defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo.
Reed said he had met him briefly, and he wondered what kind of player Salave’a was when he played defensive tackle at Arizona in from 1994 to 1997.
There really was only one thing I could tell Reed: Salave’a was a tough son-of-a-gun.
And now he’s a Wildcat again.
Head coach Mike Stoops hired Salave’a on Thursday, and the 35-year-old former All-Pac-10 defender will report to duties Monday to help Arizona prepare for the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State.
Regarding the toughness of Salave’a, I doubt if anything has changed over the years, through his nine-year NFL career and through two years of coaching the defensive line for Dick Tomey at San Jose State in 2008 and 2009.
I wrote this in 1996 for the Arizona Daily Star:
The story that defines his career came in 1994, when he spent halftime of a game against UCLA in the emergency room at University Medical Center. “Hurry,” he told the medical staff. “I’ve got to get back to the game.”
X-rays quickly determined there were no broken bones in his throbbing left wrist, and he was whisked back by ambulance to the game with about 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
Playing after dislocating a wrist, he caused two fumbles in the fourth quarter, helping the UA to a 34-24 come-from-behind victory.
“What can Joe Salave’a bring to the table,” he asked rhetorically during an interview on Saturday night.
“I’m ready to go to work. My whole thing is you have got to produce, and part of the profession is you go into it will all your might. I think the Wildcat family, former and current Wildcats, it’s our time to up the ante a little bit and turn the corner a little bit more.”
In addition to his toughness and work ethic — he graduated from Arizona in four years despite having limited knowledge of English when he arrived in the United States from Samoa in 1989 — his connections to the Polynesian community will be valuable in recruiting.
During the John Mackovic years in the early part of the last decade, Arizona lost some of its long-standing ties to the islands … and the team wasn’t winning very much, either.
“It was almost like they went into a Twilight Zone period where Arizona became the doormat of the Pac-10, and that was hard to swallow,” Salave’a said.
“That spirit of competitiveness, I felt like they lost that. That is something the Coach Stoops and the staff has recaptured. And the way to continue that resurgence is recruiting. That is the lifeblood of this thing.”
During the season, Tuiasosopo talked about how exciting it was to have so much young talent at the defensive tackle position.
Salave’a inherits Justin Washington, who has been selected a first-team Freshman All-American by The Sporting News and CollegeFootballNews. Redshirt freshman Sione Tuihalamaka started three games this season. Willie Mobley, who began his career at Ohio State, is only a sophomore. True freshman Aiulua Fanene was selected the team’s Scout Team Player of the Year for defense.
Stoops still has to make another hire to replace secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown. According to an Arizona press release, that vacancy won’t be filled until January. In the meantime, Stoops is helping coach the secondary along with graduate assistant Ryan Walters.
Here’s more from my Saturday interview with Salave’a.
On Saturday, I wrote about how former Arizona All-American Ricky Hunley would love to have a chance to be on Stoops’ coaching staff. He called me this week to express how grateful he was for the response he received from UA fans and he asked that I pass along his thanks. So, thank you from Ricky Hunley.