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'A dream come true.' Assistant coach Chad Savage brings hometown feel to Nevada's staff

Chad Savage
Chad Savage starred at Reno High before beginning his coaching career. (Byrne Photo/Nevada athletics)

Some of Chad Savage's fondest memories as a kid are of playing football with his friends inside the gates of Mackay Stadium while waiting for the Wolf Pack to kick off.

"Back in the day, they used to have the day games at Mackay, the 1 o'clock kickoffs, and playing with my Pop Warner buddies behind the scoreboard," Savage said of his first memories of Nevada football. "That's something that we used to almost look forward to more than our games on Friday night."

Savage's favorite Wolf Pack player in back then was Chance Kretschmer, aka the Tonopah Tornado who became the first freshman to lead the nation in rushing in 2001. Twenty years later, it will be Savage who helps mold the next Nevada stars. At only 26 years old, Savage was elevated to a full-time assistant job by head coach Jay Norvell heading into spring camp. For the Reno High graduate, coaching the Wolf Pack has long been a dream job.

"Being a Reno, Nevadan and a sixth-generation Northern Nevadan, it's really a dream-come-true opportunity," Savage said. "Growing up, you're always watching the Wolf Pack from the Chris Ault days to the Brian Polian days and obviously with Jay Norvell it's special to me because I was here when he was building the culture and now to be back here is a dream come true. I'm honored to be on this staff and grateful for this opportunity."

Savage's Nevada roots run deep. His father, Len, is the president of Savage and Son, a plumbing, HVAC and piping contractor in Reno that touts itself as Nevada's Oldest Contractor at 125 years. His uncles, John and Pete, are two of the area's most successful coaches, John leading UCLA baseball to national prominence and Pete guiding the Reno High baseball team to more than a dozen regional championships. Chad opted for coaching over plumbing, albeit in a different sport, that of football.

"I grew up in sports and have some family members in the coaching profession, and I always admired the way they did things and the way they impacted other peoples' lives," said Savage, the 2013 Northern 4A football player of the year. "I had the high school career I had, went on to play a little bit of college ball, but when that opportunity closed, I knew the best thing besides playing was coaching. I wanted to be around the game, I'm a competitive person yet compassionate, too. I love impacting people, love developing relationships and being there between the lines, I love competing, too."

This isn't Savage's first go-around at Nevada. After serving on San Diego's staff as an undergraduate offensive assistant coach 2015-17, he was a graduate assistant at Nevada from 2018-19. He returned to USD in a full-time role this season before the Wolf Pack wide receiver job opened following Eric Scott's departure for San Jose State. Norvell shifted tight ends coach Timmy Chang to wide receivers and hired Savage to coach the team's tight ends. At only 26, he's one of the youngest full-time coaches in the Mountain West.

Savage said that youth is a bonus in recruiting, plus he already had experience with a lot of the players on Nevada's roster from his two seasons with the program earlier in Norvell's tenure.

"I did spent two seasons here, so I have a feeling and I know these guys," Savage said. "I've had previous relationships with them. I know how to work with these guys. I know how to relate to them. In terms of recruiting, being 26 years old, I speak the same lingo as some of these recruits, I know the music they're listening to, I know the stuff they're doing on the weekends, so I can relate to these guys and I love talking to them, FaceTiming them and taking pride in acquiring and developing those relationships."

Savage's previous relationship with the Wolf Pack players played a role in Norvell hiring him, the coach said. Norvell said there was major interest from heavily qualified candidates looking to join Nevada's staff, but he opted for continuity by hiring Savage.

"It's amazing the interest in the University of Nevada," Norvell said. "I had four NFL coaches that wanted to come here and coach. But the guy we chose is a guy who is very familiar to Reno in Chad Savage. He's homegrown here. He was one of our analysts earlier in his career for a couple of years and went back to his alma mater at the University of San Diego last year. Amazing impact that he had when he was here. All of our kids love Chad. Really was the guy that they wanted to bring back. I was really, really excited to have the opportunity to bring Chad back."

Savage said there's a noticeable difference between the kind of culture Nevada had during his first go-around with the Wolf Pack and his most recent one as Norvell enters his fifth season. Nevada is coming off three straight bowl seasons, including a 7-2 record last season, and is expected to be one of the preseason favorites to win the Mountain West.

"There's three pillars that Coach Norvell believes in this program, and they're respect, accountability and hustle," Savage said. "Those aren't just words that we say. It's words that we live by from the head man all the way down to the equipment room, from senior down to freshman. I saw when he was building it, but the chemistry in this program right now today is one of the best chemistries I've seen, and it all has to do with the culture that Coach Norvell and this whole program has built."

Savage's tight ends group boasts one of the nation's top players at that position in Cole Turner, a 6-foot-6, 240-pounder entering his senior season. Turner spent his first two seasons at Nevada at wide receiver before breaking out last year at his new position. He caught 49 balls for 605 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games and will remain a featured player in the Wolf Pack offense in 2021.

"With Cole Turner, the thing I've seen is the shift in mentality every single day and the way he carries himself," Savage said. "He's all about business, he's a leader, he's a vocal guy. They way he works in the weight room, on the field, that's why NFL teams are drooling over a guy like Cole Turner. He's got length, he's got size, he's a mismatch in the pass game and a willing blocker in the run game. That's really what teams are looking for. But you look at a guy who's 6-6, 240, you can't really find that in college football right now."

Savage said he's honored and grateful to coach for his hometown college and takes pride in stepping on campus every day. The last time the Wolf Pack won a conference championship was 2010 when Savage was 15 years old, just a high school freshman. Now a full-time staff member, his aim is to get Nevada back to the top of the conference.

"That's our end goal and the standard is always on the rise at Nevada," Savage said. "It's not just to win a game against UNLV. It's not just to win seven games. It's to win the Mountain West and put Nevada back on the map. I feel like that's why I'm here, too. It gives me goosebumps to think about that, but that's why we're working every single day."

You can watch Chad Savage's full NSN Daily interview below.

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