Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Wilcox is leaving UW for USC. He brings proven recruiting skills and an ability to develop players.
Justin Wilcox took over the Huskies defense in 2011, and drastic changes to its productivity came with it. He inherited a Washington defense that had given up an average of 35.9 points a game and 453.3 yards, ranking the Huskies 108th and 106th, respectively, out of 120 teams. From that, he remolded the defense into one that gave up just 23.5 points and 367.25 a game over the past two regular seasons.
In 2013, Washington's defense ranked 30th in points given up and 46th in yards surrendered, and in its recent Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl victory, it only gave up one touchdown three field goals.
Wilcox has a proven ability to come in and develop a scheme that works, and with the talent USC has, he should be able to replicate that success in Troy. He knows Sarkisian very well, having coached with him at UW, and he knows his way around a 3-4 scheme.
To be sure, Sarkisian had a gem of a defensive coordinator in Clancy Pendergast, so the decision to let him go was quite puzzling.
Outside of Arizona State, Notre Dame and UCLA—which, arguably, says a lot in and of itself about Pendergast's ability to scheme against a mobile quarterback—Pendergast turned a lifeless USC defense into one of the strongest in the Pac-12. His defense gave up 21.2 points a game and 334.9 yards, down from Monte Kiffin's 24.3 and 394.0 figures in 2012.
Sarkisian made it clear that he wanted a 3-4 scheme, which could be why Pendergast—who utilizes a 5-2 scheme—could have been let go, despite having two years left on his contract. But the schemes are so similar that it might not have even made a difference in the long run. The players loved Pendergast, and having to adjust to a new coach could take time.
Pendergast also has never really taken to recruiting, where Wilcox is very skilled at it. That also could have played into the final decision.
Regardless, USC seems to be trading one gem for another.