Salave’a was back on campus this weekend on an interview.
The Wildcats lost their main connection to Polynesian recruits when defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo left last week to take a position at Colorado.
(Related from TucsonCitizen.com: Ricky Hunley: ‘I would absolutely love’ to join Stoops’ coaching staff)
The Samoan-born Salave’a, who has two years of college coaching experience at San Jose State under Dick Tomey, is popular and well-known on the islands. He founded the Joe Salave’a Foundation in 2001, which, according to his former San Jose State bio, “specializes in free football clinics for youngsters in American Samoa and Hawaii.”
“Coach Tui did a heck of a job re-establishing that pipeline that was lost there for a while,” Salave’a told TucsonCitizen.com on Saturday night. “Knowing the culture, that’s very important. …
“That is one of the components of the program that needs to be continued and needs to be nourished.”
Salave’a, 35, had a nine-year NFL career after being picked in the fourth round of the 1998 draft by Tennessee. He joined Tomey, his former coach at Arizona, at San Jose State in 2008.
“In the course of my NFL career, I was doing my own camps through my foundation,” Salave’a said. “It was an easy transition as far as working with young people, but I wasn’t really sure that coaching was where I was going until Coach Tomey gave me the opportunity to go up there.
“I fell in love with the kids, and, of course, with Coach Tomey, you’re coming full circle and have a chance to pay it forward. It was great. … The experience of being mentored under him for two years was awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Salave’a was out of coaching this season. Sort of. He spent a month in training camp with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and his staff as part of the NFL’s Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship.
Back in his home base of Las Vegas, Salave’a volunteered when he could with the football team at Liberty High School.
“I have two little ones and they started school this past fall, so daddy wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere in the country to find work,” Salave’a said.
“It was important that I stuck around and saw my kids go to school and go to teacher-parent conferences and all that stuff. I kind of helped out at a local high school, and when you do that, you kind of get revitalized.
“Now is a good time to get going as far as coaching is concern.”
Salave’a said that Stoops has not given him any timetable for the hiring decision. Stoops has two vacancies on his defensive staff; co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Greg Brown also left for Colorado.
Stoops told reporters on Friday he would be conducting interviews this weekend and next.
Salave’a said he has heard recently about job possibilities from a couple of other Pac-10 schools, but “you never want to go against your school.”
“When this thing came around,” he added, “it was like all that had never happened. I am always going to be looking for that opportunity to get back to this institution and this community that gave so much to me.
“I have a lot invested here. When you walk the halls, you see pictures of Tedy Bruschiand some of the game photos on the walls, and you’re right there as if it’s yesterday.”
As a player at Arizona, Salave’a was known for his determination and toughness, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 1996 and first-team honors in 1997. He originally had only three years of eligibility at Arizona because he was initially academically ineligible under NCAA Proposition 48.
But the NCAA later passed a ruling that allowed such student-athletes to regain that year of eligibility if they graduated in four years. Salave’a did and returned in 1997.
“To me, this is a personal thing,” he said of this job opportunity.
“Here is a program that gave me more than I gave it back. I’m more motivated in that regard to really contribute to the success of the program that Coach Stoops and the guys have established.”
Salave’a was scheduled to return to Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon, and then he’ll wait to hear from Stoops.
“I’m happy they even thought highly enough of me to bring me in and visit with me,” Salave’a said.