When he was a record-setting quarterback at Hawaii in the early 2000s, Timmy Chang was fortunate to throw to high-level wide receivers. In addition to future NFL targets Ashley Lelie and Chad Owens, he also had 1,000-yard college pass-catchers Justin Colbert and Jason Rivers among his options.
So, it doesn't take Chang long to identify a good receiver. And when the Nevada receivers coach looks at his position group, he sees a lot of those.
"I'll say this: To me, they're one of the best groups in the country," Chang said of Nevada's receivers. "I've been watching them from afar, and if you've been paying attention to us you kind of know these guys. They're special now. For me, my job is just to make sure we're continually getting better every day, we're continually growing and we're ready week one at Cal on that Saturday, ready to roll and week in and week out being able to dissect defenses and understand who we're going against and being able to put these guys in position to win games."
Chang coached Nevada's tight ends each of the last three seasons after working with the team's inside receivers in 2017, his first year on the Wolf Pack staff. After receivers coach Eric Scott left Nevada this offseason for San Jose State, head coach Jay Norvell shifted Chang to wide receivers, a position that's replete with talent.
Nevada boasts two All-Mountain West receivers in Romeo Doubs and Elijah Cooks; Tory Horton scored five touchdowns as a true freshman last season; Justin Lockhart and Melquan Stovall both have starting experience; and Jamaal Bell and Isaac Jernigan, both entering their second season at Nevada, each had several offers from Pac-12 schools.
"I don't think there's enough footballs to go around, and I don't think there's enough positions for the amount of guys in my room," Chang said. "But we're very fortunate. We're very lucky. From us building this thing four years ago to where we are today, it starts with administration, it starts with the people high up and then we have to go out and recruit these guys and bring them in here and develop them. Across the board on offense, defense and special teams, I think we've done that."
That's most true at wide receiver, the position group Norvell, a former NFL receivers coach, has improved more than any other entering his fifth season leading Nevada. Cooks was the team's breakout star in 2019, recording 76 passes for 926 yards and eight touchdowns. After he suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery in the 2020 season opener, Doubs emerged as one of the nation's top pass-catchers. During his junior season, Doubs caught 58 balls for 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games. Both are seniors this year, poised to make Nevada's passing attack one of the nation's most prolific.
"I think it starts with the Biletnikoff watch list guy in Romeo Doubs," Chang said. "He's one of the best in country, and deservedly so. The guy puts in work. He's everything you'd want in a kid at this level. Coach calls him Secretariat, and really he's a guy. He's a guy. He's a guy that every receiving coach would want in his room. We lost Elijah in the first game of the season, and Elijah is a guy. Elijah was the guy in front of Romeo and having them back with Tory Horton and Justin Lockhart and Melquan Stovall and Isaac Jernigan and Jamaal Bell, the list goes on with these guys. They can all play. They're all going to contribute. They can all play special teams. They're guys that we went out and recruited, and they're going to help this team."
Chang has used his playing career to try and get complete buy-in from his receivers, who will be fighting for in-game reps given how loaded the position is. Chang passed for an NCAA-record 17,072 yards and 117 touchdowns during his five seasons at Hawaii. Chang said Nevada reminds him of Hawaii because both cities don't have big-league teams, which elevates the importance of the local colleges.
"All eyes are on the sports here, the basketball team, softball team, football team, and it's no different from when we were back in Hawaii," Chang said. "The thing that helps me as a coach is I didn't think about the stats. I didn't think about anything else other than as the quarterback I needed to distribute the ball to my receivers and put my guys in position to win games. Along the way in trying to win games, you just build these stats and things that come with it, but the main focus and goal was the team. The team always comes first.
"I can preach that to my guys today when I talk to them, 'You're playing the biggest team game. Sometimes you're going to get the ball and sometimes you won't. I don't care about the stats. I don't care if you catch a touchdown. Somedays you might catch eight balls, nine balls, 10 balls. Somedays you might not catch a ball. As long as we're doing our job and putting our team in position to win games, that's the main focus.'"
While he coaches receivers these days, Chang has kept a close eye on his old position from his playing days, that being the quarterback spot. Nevada has the reigning Mountain West offensive player of the year there in Carson Strong, who was the first MW underclassmen to win that award after throwing for 2,858 yards and 27 touchdowns against just four interceptions in 2020. Strong is limited during spring camp after knee surgery but is expected to be 100 percent by June. It's the second surgery on Strong's knee, the first one costing him his senior season of high school. During that first rehab, Chang discovered Strong was special.
"When Carson got here, he was not fully healed," Chang said of Strong's 2018 arrival. "June knee surgery and got here in January. The kid just worked. He threw the ball into that net. He'd be the only one in January, February, March, and you know the weather in Reno, he'd be the only guy on the field throwing to an open net when nobody would catch for him as he's working back from surgery. The same thing his freshman year as he's backing up Ty Gangi, watching and waiting and learning.
"He has a great work ethic, a great attitude and he just works. That right there in itself, it doesn't matter what you do in life, that work ethic takes over, the discipline takes over, the wanting to be great, he has all those things. As we just formed our offense and put him in position, Carson just takes it and runs with it and now you're starting to see. That redshirt freshman year to last year, there was a big jump in there. I expect another big jump, and I expect his growth to continue because of his work ethic and how smart he is and what he can do with the ball."
Chang is one of two assistant coaches who has been at Nevada during Norvell's entire five-year tenure, the other being offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Matt Mumme. While his job title has shifted a couple of times, he's thankful for his time at Nevada and hopeful the Wolf Pack will bring home its first championship since moving to the MW in 2012.
"It's been a great transition for me," Chang said. "Ever since I've been here in Reno and been here in Northern Nevada, my coaching experience and journey has been unbelievable. Being around Coach Norvell and some of these other coaches on defense, on special teams, on offense, the guys that have come and gone, for me personally my growth has been unbelievable. I just want to continue doing a good job and putting our guys in position to win games and represent Northern Nevada the way we need to."
You can watch Timmy Chang's full NSN Daily interview below.