When he was a 23-year-old high school assistant coach, Paul Volero drove four of his players from Miami, Fla., to rural West Virginia to play for coach Rich Rodriguez’s Glenville State Pioneers.
After two days in Glenville, W.Va., the always-resourceful Rodriguez pulled the well-built Volero aside.
“At the end of the weekend, he said, ‘You still look half-decent — you wanna play for us?’ ” a laughing Volero recalled Thursday. “I said sure. And the rest is history.”
Volero had played two seasons at Arizona Western College. But after he didn’t get any offers to continue his career, Volero moved back to South Florida to coach high school football.
When Rodriguez asked him if he wanted to restart his playing career, Volero jumped at the chance.
He played two years for Rodriguez at Glenville and was on the 1993 team that played for an NAIA national championship.
Following his playing career, Volero served as Rodriguez’s defensive line coach for a season at Glenville and then worked for him again for three years at West Virginia as a graduate assistant.
The two will be back on the same field Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Volero, now 43, serves as Washington State’s outside linebackers coach.
“During the season, we haven’t been able to talk, but in the offseason we do, and he’s still close with some other guys on our staff,” Rodriguez said this week. “Paul’s a great guy. He was always a good recruiter, but more than anything, he’s just always had a way with the kids.”
Volero was teammates with UA quarterbacks coach Rod Smith at Glenville. Volero also worked with current UA assistants Calvin Magee, Jeff Casteel and Bill Kirelawich at West Virginia.
“We didn’t run the zone-read with him, but don’t let Rod fool you; we used to call him ‘Sweet Feet’ when he was our quarterback at Glenville,” Volero said. “And he had a heck of an arm. Calvin Magee is a good friend of mine. I know and like a lot of those guys. Rich has a great staff.”
Volero coached with Rodriguez during the height of his success. West Virginia went 30-7 and played in two Gator Bowls and a Sugar Bowl during Volero’s three seasons.
Following the 2006 season, his final one in Morgantown, another former Rodriguez assistant, Butch Jones, hired Volero at Central Michigan as a full-time coach. He coached the defensive line for two seasons and served as the special teams coordinator for one.
Jones was then hired at Cincinnati, and Volero learned how cruel the world can be for a college assistant. Unable to land another job, Volero moved back to Florida and served as the defensive coordinator for Key West High School.
“I really enjoyed my time there,” Volero said. “Those kids, they helped me find myself as a coach again. I went from all the pressures of coaching college ball to just coaching for fun again. It was great.”
He also reconnected with an old friend.
Volero met Mike Leach a few times at coaching conventions and the two struck up a relationship. When Texas Tech fired Leach after the 2009 season, he moved to Key West.
There, Volero and Leach became fishing buddies.
When the former Texas Tech coach was hired by Washington State after the 2011 season, it was a no-brainer for him to offer Volero a job on his staff.
“When he was down in Key West, we got to know each other really well,” Volero said. “I really enjoy working with him. He’s a very smart guy, a great coach, but he’s a better person.
“I can’t stand sitting in traffic, so I’ve really enjoyed being here in Pullman. I miss the fishing and the weather, but I’m in a great situation here with Mike.”
Volero and Rodriguez will likely get a couple of minutes to exchange pleasantries before Saturday’s game. It’s something that both men are looking forward to.
Volero said he’ll be happy to see his old boss on a football field again; Rodriguez was let go by Michigan after the 2010 season.
“I was happy for him, but in my eyes it was a foregone conclusion that he would get another job,” Volero said. “He’s a hell of a football coach. Someone would be a moron not to hire him. I knew someone would. I’m really happy for him. We had a lot of good times, for sure.”
— Jalen Tabor, ranked as the No. 5 cornerback in the country by the Scout.com recruiting service, will officially visit Arizona this weekend. Tabor, out of Edison-Friendship Charter School in Washington D.C., will visit with high school teammate and UA running back commit Jonathan Haden.
Tabor has offers from more than 15 schools and is also considering Alabama, Florida and Maryland. He’s rated as a four-star recruit by Scout and a five-star prospect by Rivals.com