MADISON – It took longer than expected, but head coach Paul Chryst has apparently found his next defensive coordinator.
Per a report by FootballScoop.com, former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is finalizing terms to join Chryst’s staff as Wisconsin. No formal announcement by the Badgers athletic department has been made.
An Oregon alum who began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Boise State in 2001-02, Wilcox has been a defensive coordinator at USC (2014-15), Washington (2012-13), Tennessee (2006-09) and Boise State (2006-09). He also coached linebackers at California from 2003-05.
Wilcox was fired after the Pac-12 title game when interim head coach Clay Helton was permanently given the Trojans' head coaching position. USC finished 65th in the nation in total defense, allowing 400.8 yards per game, and allowed 25.7 points per game (50th in FBS). USC was 41st against the run and 93rd against the pass.
Two seasons ago USC ranked 78th in total defense, allowing 398 yards per game, but broke into the nation's top 20 in turnover margin, red-zone defense and third-down conversion defense.
Wilcox replaces Dave Aranda, who accepted the defensive coordinator position at LSU on Jan.1, two days after UW capped a 10-3 season with a 23-21 win over USC in the Holiday Bowl. While UW was prepared to offer him a pay bump from the $520,000 he was making, they were going to come nowhere close to the guaranteed three-year contract that will pay Aranda a base salary of $1.3 million per season.
In the three years under Aranda, Wisconsin finished third, fourth and seventh nationally in total defense, respectively. It allowed 78 offensive touchdowns during that stretch, the second-fewest among the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, and ended this season as the top scoring defense in college football, giving up 13.7 points per game.
“Dave had a heck of a three-year run,” Chryst told UWBadgers. “I enjoyed working with Dave. I know our players enjoyed playing for him. I know that other coaches enjoyed him. We didn't want to lose him. But I've been in that — where he's been at — and you come to where you like and respect a person and if it's the best thing for him and his family, you feel good for him.”
Chryst has said previously that he’d prefer to stick with the 3-4 alignment because the scheme fits to the roster’s personnel, a scheme UW has been recruiting to for all or parts of the last four recruiting cycles. Naturally, there will be some tweaks moving forward with a new voice leading the defense, but Wilcox has traditionally run a 3-4 scheme.
“I think you've got to have a coach that works with and plays to the strengths of the personnel,” said Chryst. “So much of that's in place and you recruit to it."
In 2012, Washington was in the Top 40 in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense after finishing the previous year ranked lower than 105th in each category. The Huskies’ scoring defense was in the top 35 nationally in 2013, while its pass efficiency defense improved 60 spots to No. 27 nationally in 2012 and 11th in 2013 (first in the Pac-12).
Before that Wilcox was Tennessee's defensive coordinator for two years (2010-11). The Volunteers were 28th nationally in total defense (340.5) in 2011. In 2010 his defense limited foes to 14 or fewer points in four November games.
In his last two seasons as Broncos' defensive coordinator, Boise State was among the best in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 12.6 points per game in 2008 - third-best in the nation. They ranked No. 14 in the nation in 2009 in the same category, allowing only 17.1 points per contest.
Wilcox, 39, played safety and cornerback at Oregon (1996-99) as the Ducks played in three bowl games (1997 Las Vegas Bowl, 1998 Aloha Classic, 1999 Sun Bowl). In 1999, he made the All-Pac-10 second team and Pac-10 All-Academic first team.