Santoro: You’re needed more in Reno, Coach Choate

New Wolf Pack football coach hypes the crowd at a recent Nevada basketball game at Lawlor Events Center.

New Wolf Pack football coach hypes the crowd at a recent Nevada basketball game at Lawlor Events Center.
Nevada Athletics

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Jeff Choate, now in his second week as the Nevada Wolf Pack’s head football coach, has a lot of work to do for his new employer.

At the top of his to-do list is to rebuild the coaching staff and give the roster a much-needed influx of talent. But that’s just for starters.

So, what is Choate going to do? Well, on Friday he’s going to head back to the Texas Longhorns as co-defensive coordinator and help them prepare for their College Football Playoff semifinal game against Washington on Jan. 1.

If the Longhorns beat the Huskies, they will meet the Alabama-Michigan winner on Jan. 8. That means the Pack could be without its new head coach for almost a month.

Thanks for the job. See ya’ll in a month or so. I have better things to do. Go Pack!

“How many times are you going to play for a national championship,” Choate said during his introductory press conference early last week.

Well, if you are at Nevada, the answer to that question is never. So, yes, we understand why Choate would want to squeeze as much out of this 2023 season at Texas as possible.

But the Wolf Pack needs Choate now. They actually needed him two years ago, but nobody up on North Virginia Street knew it at the time.

The Wolf Pack will need him over the final two weeks of December and the first 10 days or so of January. There are recruits, after all, to be secured for the Wolf Pack. There is a staff of assistant coaches that need to be hired. There is an apathetic community that would like to meet and talk to its new head coach and needs to be convinced to part with some of their savings account so Choate can buy players.

There is also a culture to be established for a program that is now in a fragile transition period. There are current players that need to be reassured they are wanted and needed. There is a new offense and defense that needs to be implemented. You know, all the reasons why the Pack made him an instant millionaire last week.

Choate said when he was hired that the wheels of his program will be put in motion before he leaves later this week like, you know, those wheels won’t need him to move forward. Well, the first thing Choate will learn is that at Nevada those wheels will need his constant supervision and control as long as he’s the head coach. You’re not in Texas anymore, Coach Choate. Well, after Jan. 8 you won’t be.

Choate, though, is putting that off all of his work and new responsibilities at Nevada for a month or so. He’s got a national championship to win for another school, for goodness’ sake. Hook ‘em, Horns!

Make no mistake, Choate is not unique. This is what head coaches do now. Ken Wilson did the same thing when he was hired two years ago. He went back to Oregon for a few weeks at a time when the Pack was more depleted and broken than it is now and helped them in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma.

When new head coaches are hired, their new school treats them as if they are the second coming of Bear Bryant. Nobody questions anything they do starting with their introductory press conference throughout their entire tenure as head coach until, of course, they get fired.

Choate taking the Pack job and then immediately turning around and going back to Texas for multiple weeks has a squirmy, creepy feel to it. Imagine a divorced guy getting married and going through the ceremony and meeting his new family but then going back to his former wife for the honeymoon.

How many times do you get a chance to play for a, well, never mind.

Texas doesn’t need Jeff Choate right now. But, for some reason, Choate still needs Texas. The Wolf Pack desperately needs him. It’s why they hired him.

It would have been nice for the Wolf Pack’s latest millionaire to show his new community and program he needed them and appreciated them as much as they do him.

Choate, in building a new culture, is going to ask his new players and assistant coaches to make sacrifices for him and the program. He should have started by sacrificing something for them.


Choate didn’t waste any time in clearing out the bulk of Wilson’s staff. According to reports, gone are offensive coordinator Derek Sage, defensive coordinators Mike Bethea and Kwame Agyeman, running backs coach Vai Taua, special teams coach Peyton Yanagi, offensive line coach Angus McClure and cornerbacks coach Jalen Ortiz.

That doesn’t mean Choate doesn’t think none of them can coach. It just means Choate, like all head coaches, wants his buddies around him and guys he can trust. Coaches are paranoid that way.

Wilson did the same thing two years ago. All new head coaches do it. It’s what makes the life of a football coach so tenuous. You get jobs for no other reason than you are friends of the head coach, and you lose jobs because you are not the friend of the new coach.

Wilson’s downfall, more than anything else, was his staff. It wasn’t because they couldn’t coach. It was because, as a group, they were the wrong type of staff for an inexperienced head coach like Wilson. But their names were in Wilson’s phone and, apparently, Wilson called them up while he was preparing for the Alamo Bowl (or before he left) and hired them.

Wilson surrounded himself, for the most part, with coaches that really didn’t earn their new titles yet. They were inexperienced, were in over their heads and had no idea how to stop the bleeding when things went wrong. That’s how you lose 20-of-24 games in a conference like the Mountain West. You have no idea how to put players in positions in which they can succeed.

Let’s hope Choate doesn’t use the same buddy system to hire his staff.


A handful of Wolf Pack players have already jumped into the transfer portal. Defensive lineman Dion Washington, defensive backs Richard Toney, Isaiah Essissima and Marquese Allen-Patmon and linebacker Jonathan Thomas are all looking for places to further their education (or find playing time or more NIL dollars).

The biggest loss is Toney, who was second on the team in tackles (67) this past season, with two interceptions and a sack. He also scored two touchdowns.

Washington, a 6-3, 290-pounder from Las Vegas, showed potential this year with 13 tackles, five for a loss, a sack and three quarterback hurries. Essissima left the team at mid-season after getting six tackles and even catching two passes as a wide receiver.

Players leaving for the portal happens on every team. Boise State lost the quarterback (Taylen Green) who just won the Mountain West championship. Green is heading to Arkansas, presumably, for all those free-flowing NIL dollars.

Wilson used the portal like he formed his staff. He, for the most part, just dipped into the portal to find players he already had some sort of connection to, like former Oregon Ducks.

Is Choate going to raid Texas’ staff for hidden gems? That might be all he can do while he helps coach the Longhorns’ defense over the next month.


There will be numerous Pack players next fall that will be on their third head coach since coming to Nevada. That rarely happens in college football though, in this era of the free pandemic year (2020) and, seemingly unlimited ways to redshirt, it is certainly not impossible.

Players like Jamaal Bell, Isaiah World, Ezekiel Robbins, Matthew Killam, Chad Brown, Adam Weynand, Drue Watts, Thomas Witte, and Andrew Madrigal all joined the Pack program when Jay Norvell was head coach, survived the two seasons with Wilson and still have eligibility remaining for Choate.

The last time numerous players had a chance to play for three Pack head coaches during their career was in the 1992-96 era when Chris Ault (1992, 1994-95), Jeff Horton (1993) and Jeff Tisdel (1996-99) were running the program.

Among the players that were a part of the program under Horton, Ault and Tisdel back in the 1990s were James Johnson, Jeff Hadwick, Darnell Hasson, Garnett Overby and Tawan Hall.


Did Boise State act hastily by hiring Spencer Danielson as its head coach? The 35-year-old, after all, went from the Broncos’ defensive coordinator to interim head coach when head coach Andy Avalos was fired in the middle of November.

Danielson then only had to beat struggling Utah State and Air Force teams to close out the regular season and UNLV in the Mountain West championship to get the full-time gig as head coach.

He was announced as Boise State’s full-time head coach the very next day after beating UNLV as the Broncos didn’t even seriously consider other candidates (such as former Boise State assistant Jeff Choate).

But we get it.

Danielson might turn out to be an outstanding head coach, the Second Coming of Chris Petersen at Boise State. The players seem to love him, and Danielson seems to love them. Who doesn’t love a 35-year-old God-fearing head coach who already has a conference title to his credit? The Broncos clearly had to give Danielson the top job or else be faced with an entire roster jumping into the transfer portal.

It must be noted that the three weeks Boise took to fall in love with Danielson is certainly longer than the two or three days the Wolf Pack needed to hire Choate. And Choate didn’t come equipped with a Mountain West title. That national title he might win with Texas next month has to stay in Austin.

So, yes, we’re giving Boise State the benefit of the doubt because, well, Boise State has never made a head coaching mistake in its football history.


Hiring head coaches quicker than you can say Jeff Choate is what universities do. It’s a multi-million-dollar job and universities, which are always crying about money, spend what seems like less time than it takes to drive around Lake Tahoe to fill the position.

The Wolf Pack, so they told us, fired Ken Wilson on a Friday and before the weekend was out, they offered the job to Choate. By Monday afternoon, Choate was introduced as the savior of all things silver and blue.

Is that how easy it is to get a million-dollar job these days? Well, if you are a college football coach it is. The Wolf Pack didn’t know Jeff Choate from Jeff Horton on Friday and by Sunday they were treating him like he was Bear Bryant. It takes longer to get a job taking drink orders at a casino.

It seems silly. It seems lazy. It seems careless, irresponsible and negligent. It seems like Wolf Pack athletic director Stephanie Rempe spent more time worrying about how to pronounce Coach Choate correctly (she succeeded most of the time) while standing behind a microphone than she did checking out Choate’s background.

Hey, you try saying Coach Choate 10 times fast. It’s not so easy, is it? Hiring a head coach is much easier.

But that can’t be true, right? The Pack had to take more than 48 hours or so to hire Choate, right?

It’s a million-dollar job in charge of a multi-million-dollar program (let alone six or seven dozen young men) that is one of the most important public faces of your entire institution.

Two days? That’s how long it takes to fill that job? Didn’t the Wolf Pack take more time picking out the color of paint to slap on the walls at Legacy Hall?

That can’t be true, right?       


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