Mike Leach wooing Salave'a; plus more on D

MIKE LEACH'S comment last week that the South Pacific islands would be a key recruiting area for his Washington State Cougars appears to be moving into the serious stage. Joe Salave'a, a huge presence – literally and figuratively – in football circles in American Samoa and Hawaii, was in Pullman on Wednesday. That's not the only development on the defensive side of the ball, though.

Salave'a met with Leach and attended an athletic department holiday party Wednesday evening, according to a source close to the program. The source didn't know if a deal with Salave'a had been struck, but said Leach clearly wants the former University of Arizona star on the Cougar sidelines.

Salave'a, 36, spent this past season coaching the defensive line at his alma mater. Prior to that, he spent two seasons as the d-line coach at San Jose State, working for his old mentor at Arizona, Dick Tomey.

Before reuniting with Tomey, Salave'a spent nine seasons in the NFL. Five of them were with Tennessee and included the team's 1999 Super Bowl season. He also played for the Chargers and Redskins. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Titans in 1998 following a spectacular career at Arizona, where he led the Wildcats in sacks and tackles for loss in 1996 and 1997, and in fumbles caused in 1994 and 1996.

Salave'a, who stands 6-5 and tipped the scales in his playing days at 317, grew up in Samoa. In 2001 he founded the Joe Salave'a Foundation, which puts on free football clinics for youngsters in American Samoa and Hawaii.

He would seem an ideal hire for Leach, filling a position – defensive line – where he has proven his mettle under two demanding defense-minded coaches, Mike Stoops and Tomey, and bringing a network of relationships in Samoa and Hawaii that would give Leach & Co. instant credibility in a prime-time recruiting region.

AFTER LOADING UP ON assistant coaches for the offensive side of the ball, Leach appears now to be wasting little time in stocking his defensive staff.

FootballScoop.com reported late Wednesday that that Paul Volero, a former special teams and defensive line coach at Central Michigan and one-time special teams quality control coach for Rich Rodriquez at West Virginia, is joining Leach at WSU. Volero most recently was a high school assistant coach in the same place -- Key West, Fla. -- where Leach has lived since leaving Texas Tech. Volero was a high school assistant for a number of years in Florida before getting into the college ranks at South Florida in 2003 as assistant strength coach.

On Tuesday, FootballScoop.com reported, and other sources verified, that Mike Smith, who played for Leach at Texas Tech before going on to the NFL, would be coming to WSU to coach linebackers. Smith was a graduate assistant at Hawaii a year ago before joining the New York Jets this season as an intern.

One staff position that has remained strangely quiet on the grapevine is defensive coordinator. There's been speculation of course about whom Leach might look at, but nothing tangible. The fact Leach is making other defensive hires gives rise to the notion that he might have his DC picked, but said person is staying under the radar because his current team is readying for a bowl game. Definitely food for thought.

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