College football: Justin Wilcox named California head football coach
BERKELEY – Justin Wilcox, who has coordinated some of the top defenses in the country during his coaching career, including this past season with Cotton Bowl-champion Wisconsin, has agreed to become the next head football coach at California.
Wilcox makes a return to Berkeley after spending three years as the Golden Bears' linebackers coach from 2003-05. Cal went 26-12 during the stretch with trips to the Insight, Holiday and Las Vegas bowls.
Wilcox served as a defensive coordinator for the next 11 seasons, starting at Boise State from 2006-09. He then followed with two-year stints at Tennessee, Washington and USC before spending this past season at Wisconsin as defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach.
"Cal Athletics is about high academics, it's about a comprehensive student-athlete experience, and it's about winning championships," Director of Athletics Mike Williams said. "We have found a coach in Justin Wilcox who embodies all of those principles. Justin is a smart, driven person of high character with a proven record of success. As a former assistant coach for us, Justin understands what it takes to be successful at Cal – in the classroom and on the field. He has deep West Coast roots, having grown up and spent the bulk of his career in the Pac-12 and the conference footprint. Justin just led the No. 7 defense in the country at Wisconsin and his teams have consistently ranked among the best in the nation. I am confident we have found someone who is clearly the right fit for Cal."
Over his 16 years in collegiate coaching, which began as a graduate assistant at Boise State, Wilcox has helped teams to 14 bowl games, including a 24-16 victory for Wisconsin over previously undefeated Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl earlier this month.
"I couldn't be more excited to become head football coach at the University of California," Wilcox said. "It has been a dream of mine to lead a college football program and there's no better place than here at Cal where I got my start and at a school that means so much to me. I would like to thank Director of Athletics Mike Williams and his staff for putting their trust in me with the Cal football program. I'm looking forward to getting to know our team and hiring our staff, and we will get to work immediately recruiting student-athletes of high character who are good fits for Cal both academically and athletically. I can't wait to get started. Go Bears!"
This past season at Wisconsin, the Badgers finished 11-3 overall and were ranked ninth in the final Associated Press poll. Wisconsin won the Big Ten West Division with a 7-2 league mark.
At Wisconsin, Wilcox inherited a defense that had to replace five of 11 starters, and he produced one of the most effective units in the nation. As a team, the Badgers ranked among the country's top 10 in five key categories despite facing a schedule that featured seven ranked opponents – total defense (7th, 301.4 ypg), rushing defense (3rd, 98.8 ypg), passing efficiency defense (10th, 106.91 rating), scoring defense (4th, 15.6 ppg) and third-down conversion defense (4th, 27.9%). Linebacker T.J. Watt was named a first-team All-American by ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated, as well as first-team All-Big Ten, while linebacker T.J. Edwards was selected the defensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl.
Wilcox boasts seven years of experience as a coach in the Pac-12, most recently as defensive coordinator at USC in 2014 and '15. The Trojans won the Pac-12 South title in 2015 and made a second consecutive appearance in the Holiday Bowl. In 2014, USC's defense ranked among the nation's top 20 in turnover margin, red zone defense and third-down conversion defense. The following season, the Trojans led the Pac-12 in third-down conversion defense and scored five defensive touchdowns, good for third-best in the country.
Before going to USC, Wilcox served as Washington's defensive coordinator from 2012-13. In 2012, the Huskies ranked in the top 40 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense after finishing the previous year ranked lower than 105th in each category.
Washington's scoring defense jumped to 29th nationally in 2013, while its pass efficiency defense improved 60 spots to 27th nationally in 2012 and then was 10th in 2013 (first in the Pac-12). Its 41 pass sacks in 2013 were tied for third-most in the nation. The Huskies played in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl and 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl.
Wilcox also spent two seasons as Tennessee's defensive coordinator (2010-11) and four years as the defensive coordinator at Boise State (2006-09). The Broncos went 49-4 during his time at Boise while leading the Western Athletic Conference in total defense and scoring defense each year.
In 2009, Wilcox guided Boise State to a No. 14 ranking in both total defense and scoring defense and a No. 3 showing in turnover margin. The Broncos opened the year with a 19-8 win over eventual Pac-12 champion Oregon and closed it with a 17-10 victory over previously undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
Boise State's 2008 squad posted a 12-1 record and captured its second WAC title in three seasons. Wilcox's defense ranked third nationally in scoring, allowing just 12.6 ppg and holding eight of 13 opponents to 10 points or fewer.
The Broncos also led the WAC in rushing defense in both 2006 and '07. Boise State was eighth nationally against the run during Wilcox's debut season as defensive coordinator, and his overall defensive scheme was instrumental in helping the 2006 squad to a 13-0 record and a 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
A 1999 graduate of Oregon with a degree in anthropology, the 40-year-old Wilcox is the son of Dave Wilcox, a Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1964-74. His uncle John (Philadelphia Eagles, 1960) and brother Josh (New Orleans Saints, 1998-99) also played in the NFL.
As a player, Wilcox was a safety and cornerback at Oregon (1996-99), helping the Ducks to three bowl games (1997 Las Vegas Bowl, 1998 Aloha Classic, 1999 Sun Bowl). In 1999, he was named second-team All-Pac-10 and earned Pac-10 All-Academic honors.