If you haven’t been following the Washington Football team since their Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor, boy have you missed a lot. After watching a whopping 123 combined points put on the board by the Huskies and Bears, you couldn’t help but wonder how Nick Holt would retain his job as Defensive Coordinator for UW. As expected, two days later Holt as well as Linebackers coach Mike Cox and Safeties coach Jeff Mills were relieved of their duties. But who did the university deem qualified enough to turn around a reeling defense that hasn’t seen success since 2003? Step in Justin Wilcox, former Defensive Coordinator at Tennessee.
Who is Justin Wilcox?
A 35-year-old native of Junction City, Oregon, Wilcox was (unfortunately) a graduate of the University of Oregon where he played defensive back for the Ducks from 1996-1999. Following his college days, and unable to make a final roster in the NFL, Wilcox became a Graduate Assistant on the Boise State coaching staff in 2001. After two seasons in Boise, he was offered the Linebackers coaching position by Jeff Tedford of Cal, which he accepted. Three seasons later, Wilcox found himself back on the “smurf turf,” but now as the Defensive Coordinator for Boise State. Four years at the helm of the WAC’s top-ranked defense, Wilcox alongside head coach Chris Peterson went 49-4 and captured the nation’s spotlight. In 2010 the Tennessee Volunteers came knocking and hired him as their new D-Coordinator. Two seasons in Knoxville and then here we are today, now the new DC on Montlake. Here’s what he said about his new job: “I’m grateful for this opportunity. Washington is a place where you can win big, and I’m excited to work with Coach Sarkisian in developing a championship-caliber football program. Our first order of business is hitting the recruiting trail, and I can’t wait to get started.”
As a Husky fan, you should be excited about this hire, as Wilcox has shown a lot of success with little to work with. Perfect fit, right? Last season he led a Vols defense that ranked 28th nationally in yards allowed (340.5 yds/gm). That’s 85.8 yards better than the sorry excuse that the Huskies fielded. Just for a little perspective, the last time the Huskies held their opponents under that mark was way back in 1996, when Jim Lambright’s defensive prowess was on full display. To make it even more impressive, Wilcox was able to accomplish this with all three starting linebackers being freshman.
Wilcox runs a Multiple D scheme with a creative four down front. In the past he has employed a hybrid pass rusher/linebacker and doesn’t stray away from dropping the ends into coverage. He is very aggressive and people have heard him say that if he could play zero coverage with his corners and blitz all day long, he would. But as we know, you need talent in order to play that brand of defense so the Huskies are quite a ways off in that respect.
All in all, this was a great hire for the Dawgs. They bring in a young and creative defensive mind who has a successful background at the coaching position. This is definitely an upgrade from what was in place before.
The Huskies had many more coaching voids to fill. Here’s who they now have in place.
Peter Sirmon: Another former Duck (unfortunately) and former teammate of Wilcox, Sirmon will be the new Linebackers coach after holding the same position also at Tennessee. As I noted above, the linebacking group in Knoxville was very young last season, but Sirmon was able to make it work for the Volunteers. He even converted one of their Senior fullbacks into a linebacker, and some claim he is now one of the best tacklers on the team. So, like Wilcox, Sirmon is the type of person who is capable of making something out of nothing.
Tosh Lupoi: This could very well be the biggest coaching hire for the Dawgs, even though Lupoi will only be in charge of the defensive line. What makes Tosh Lupoi great is what he can do off of the sidelines, and in the homes of recruits around the nation. He is one of the best the country has to offer, being named the top recruiter in the Pac-12 last season and considered one of the top three nationwide. What’s even better is he is the type of recruiter that can make an impact nationally, which is something the Huskies haven’t had since Bobby Hauck during the Nueheisel era of the early 2000’s when they hauled in prized national recruits such as Charles Frederick from Florida. In the past two seasons as the D-Line coach at Cal, Lupoi has produced two NFL first round defensive lineman selections, including last year’s first round pick of the New Orleans Saints, Cameron Jordan. Cal has also been known to have one of the top defensive lines in the conference perenially. On top of that, he was single handedly making this year’s recruiting class for Cal one of the best in the country. “He’s young, he’s energetic, and I think he really gets the 21st century recruit,” says Brandon Huffman, National Football Recruiting Analyst for Scout.com. With his switch to the Huskies, there has already been a ripple effect along the conference’s recruiting front. Five star defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy has already changed is commitment from the Golden Bears to UCLA. On top of that, many more are now considering other options, including the number one safety and number three overall recruit in the country, Shaq Thompson, who is now split 50-50 between UW and Cal according to Scout.com. He’s really good. The next couple weeks leading up to signing day on February 1st will for sure be a wild one, but where we should really see an impact in recruiting is in the 2013 class, where Tosh will have an entire year to reel in those big time players.
Keith Heyward: After spending the last four seasons as Oregon State’s Defensive Backs coach, Heyward finds himself taking the same coaching position with the Dawgs. As one of Oregon State’s best recruiters, he focused much of his attention on Southern California recruits given that he was raised in that region. This will help fill some of the void that Demetrice Martin left when he moved on to coach for UCLA.
Eric Kiesau: Although it is not yet official, reports have surfaced that the Huskies have also snatched up another Cal coach, this one being Eric Kiesau who will supposedly be the new Wide Receivers coach. While coaching the position at California, Kiesau overlooked the likes of Desean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, and Keenan Allen. With this change it means that current Wide Receivers coach for the Dawgs, Jimmie Dougherty, will now likely move to Quarterbacks Coach. It was also reported that Kiesau will take over the role of Offensive Coordinator that is now vacant after Doug Nussmeier left for the same job at Alabama. Even as OC, many are well aware that Sarkisian runs this offense and the coordinator position doesn’t carry as much weight as it does in other programs around the country. (Update: Officially announced QBs coach and OC on Jan. 18. Dougherty to stay as WRs coach)
Overall, it has been a huge past two weeks for the Huskies and Coach Sarkisian. They have pieced together one of the best coaching staffs in the conference; one with the potential to bring this program back to where we all expect it to be. Keep an eye out over the next few weeks as there will undoubtedly be more news coming for the Huskies with signing day fast approaching.