The college football coaching landscape is always in flux. Every offseason, schools look to upgrade their coaching staff looking for the next great mind who will lead their program to glory. Everyone is always keeping an eye on the coaching staffs of successful teams to pluck the next great coach out of the ranks of assistants. So who will be the next coaches to make the move up to the big coach’s seat? We start a series to profile the Pac-12 assistant coaches on the short list to take over their own team soon with Washington Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Wilcox is a 35-year old defensive coach who has long ties with the Pac-12, along with experience across the country. Growing up in Oregon, Wilcox spent his college years in Eugene as an Oregon Duck defensive back (Huskies fans will try and forgive him for that). After his playing days, he joined the Boise State Broncos in 2001 as a graduate assistant under then-head coach Dan Hawkins. After two seasons, he left Boise for the Bay Area as the linebackers coach for the Cal Bears under Jeff Tedford. He spent three seasons in Berkeley before getting the call to run his own defense.
In 2006, Wilcox returned to the Broncos as defensive coordinator under Chris Peterson. During his four seasons running the Boise State defense, the Broncos went an impressive 49-4, and Wilcox’s squads were consistently among the highest-rated statistically in the nation. After four years with Boise, Wilcox headed east in 2010 and took the same position with the Tennessee Vols under Derek Dooley. He was considered for the DC position at Texas when Will Muschamp left for Florida, but he decided to stay put for the 2011 season.
Shortly after the Huskies poor defensive showing against Baylor, where the Bears scored a ridiculous 67 points, Washington parted ways with Nick Holt and offered the position to Wilcox. He quickly accepted and makes his return to the Pac-12 on the staff of Steve Sarkisian. He inherits a defense that ranked 108th in points allowed and will test his ability to turn around a defense in a hurry. He’ll be helped by returning eight defensive starters, so he can focus on just getting the players he has to play better rather than finding all new replacements. He will have to overcome issues with depth and a broken unit which has ranked near the bottom of the country the last five seasons.
Wilcox uses his experience and expertise from playing in the secondary to attack offenses with a complex, zone-adjusting schemes which he developed in the wide-open WAC with Boise State and perfected in the hard-nosed SEC while at Tennessee. Most important to his success, Wilcox has shown an ability to utilize two and three star recruits to field an elite defense, which should help fuel the turnaround in Seattle. With the recruiting resources at UW, the Huskies could start to provide Wilcox with some very dangerous tools.
If Wilcox works the same magic he’s been able to in his previous stops, Wilcox will be in high demand for a head coaching position. His experience in the Pac-12 will make him an excellent fit at Washington. If he can turn this crummy defense into an elite unit, as he was able to with Boise State, he’ll become a highly sought commodity for a team of his own.