Justin Wilcox Hired as California Head Coach: Latest Contract Details, Reaction

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist

TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 11:  Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox of the USC Trojans during warm ups to the college football game atagainst the Arizona Wildcats  Arizona Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

California announced on Jan. 14 it has hired former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to be its head football coach.

On Jan. 13, ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman reported the sides agreed on a five-year contract. Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com confirmed the deal.

Cal athletic director Mike Williams spoke about the hiring in the school's announcement:

Cal Athletics is about high academics, it's about a comprehensive student-athlete experience, and it's about winning championships. 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.

Wilcox also spoke about joining the Golden Bears:

I couldn't be more excited to become head football coach at the University of California. 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!

Wilcox was officially introduced as Cal's new head coach at a press conference held Tuesday and provided more insight into his vision for the program moving forward.

While he will get to work on recruiting and building the type of roster that fits his philosophy, Wilcox made it clear he is comfortable with the players already in place, according to California Golden Blogs: "The players on the team are our players. We're not looking to change them. We will put them in the best position to succeed."

He also stressed the importance of Cal fans and the role they must play during his first year at the helm, per California Golden Blogs: "To the fans out there, we are grateful for all of you. ... We need you to make Memorial Stadium to be a hard place to play."

Wilcox is getting his first opportunity to become a head coach after spending more than a decade as a coordinator with several high-profile programs around the nation. He's made stops with Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California and the Badgers dating back to 2006.

His coaching career began with Boise State as a graduate assistant in 2001. He made a pretty rapid rise up the ranks, making a three-year stop at Cal as a linebackers coach and then returning to the Broncos to begin his various stints leading defenses.

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The 40-year-old former Oregon defensive back guided Wisconsin's defense to a strong 2016 campaign, his first year with the program, after arriving from the Trojans. The unit ranked fourth in scoring defense (15.6 points per game) and seventh in total defense (301.4 yards per game).

In addition, the Badgers gave up just 16.2 points per game in their five regular-season games against ranked opponents during a 10-2 (7-2) journey to the Big Ten West title.

Alas, the lasting memory many Wisconsin fans will have of Wilcox's tenure is the defense's collapse against Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Nittany Lions put up 435 yards despite only 23 minutes of possession in their 38-31 triumph. Wilcox and the Wisconsin defense bounced back in a Cotton Bowl win, holding Western Michigan to 16 points to help the Badgers finish 11-3.

Jason Galloway of the Wisconsin State Journal passed along comments from senior safety Leo Musso about the impact the coach made over the course of the season.

"He's meant the world to us," Musso said. "He really, truly does care about his players. We really appreciate that and love him for that. He's one of the best at what he does. That shows each and every week."

Those types of remarks combined with his experience at the highest levels of college football make him an intriguing hire. That said, he also comes with some risk since he hasn't been the leader of a program before.

Wilcox is set to replace Sonny Dykes, who went 19-30 in four seasons as Cal's head coach. The Golden Bears waited until the first wave of coaching changes was complete before making their decision to let Dykes go, which led to speculation they might seriously consider a marquee option like Chip Kelly.

Although the longtime defensive coordinator won't bring the same type of hype, he's a promising hire with upside. A lot of that comes from coaching just about everywhere on the map, including the West, Midwest and Southeast. Those are all key recruiting areas.

Now Wilcox will be tasked with jump-starting a Cal program that's been stuck in neutral since the latter stages of the Jeff Tedford era.


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