California changed directions with its football program Saturday, hiring longtime college defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox as head coach to replace the offensive-minded Sonny Dykes.
Dykes was fired last Sunday after four seasons of sometimes dynamiy Dykes.
Dykes was fired last Sunday after four seasons of sometimes dynamic offense combined with one of the worst defenses in the country. After earning just one bowl berth and one winning record in his tenure and angering the administration and fan base by flirting with various job openings, Dykes was fired six weeks after the end of the season.
Athletic Director Mike Williams set out to find a coach who would be committed to Cal and would excite Golden Bears followers and he hopes he did just that with Wilcox, a former Cal assistant.
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“I couldn’t be more excited to become head football coach at the University of California,” Wilcox said in a statement. “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.”
The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer and former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dave Wilcox, has never been a head coach before but did spend three years as linebackers coach at Cal from 2003-05 under Jeff Tedford and has been a defensive coordinator for the past 11 seasons at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California and Wisconsin.
The Badgers ranked seventh in total defense and fourth in scoring defense in Wilcox’s one season at Wisconsin. The Badgers finished ninth in the AP poll.
“I’m truly very thankful for all that Justin did for our program and how he did it,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “In one year he had a big impact on our players, our staff and our families. He’s very deserving of this opportunity. I’m extremely happy for him and wish him all the best.”
The change from Dykes to Wilcox is a dramatic one. Dykes’ “Bear Raid” offense put up big numbers in his four seasons at Cal behind quarterbacks Jared Goff and Davis Webb but the Bears struggled each year defensively, in part because of the fast pace of the offense and the lack of enough strength on both sides of the ball.
Cal ranked 125th in total defense, 127th in scoring defense and 122nd in yards per play out of 128 FBS teams last season on the way to a 5-7 record. Dykes finished his tenure with a 19-30 record, with his only winning mark coming when the Bears went 8-5 in 2015 in Goff’s final season before becoming the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Now it will be up to Wilcox, a former defensive back at Oregon, to change all that.
“Justin was one of the most competitive and knowledgeable players that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” said former Ducks coach Mike Bellotti. “It has never surprised me that he has become a great coach because he understands football, he understands the student-athletes and he can coach them up. His understanding of the game and his willingness to prepare will make Cal a better football program.”
Dykes and the administration seemed to be at odds after that 2015 season during a prolonged negotiation of a contract extension. The deal was finally worked out and Dykes’ deal was extended through the 2019 season. Cal owes Dykes more than $5 million under terms of the deal finalized in March because he was fired without cause, although that will be off-set by money he earns at any job he gets during the next three seasons.
The problems only got worse when Dykes showed interest after last season in the openings at Baylor and Houston.
The Bears had been consistent winners for nearly a decade under Tedford, with only one losing season from 2002-09. Things started to slip after that. The athletic department struggled financially and the football team’s Academic Progress Rating of 930 was the worst in the Pac-12 at the end of Tedford’s tenure.
The academics bounced back under Dykes, posting APRs of 969, 946 and 997 the past three years to raise the four-year average to 960 – the program’s highest since 2008-09. But on the field there were few victories, despite record-breaking offenses.
Wilcox was a graduate assistant at Boise State in 2001 and 2002 and the Broncos’ defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009.