MADISON – Justin Wilcox has learned a lot over the past year.
Fired from USC following the Pac-12 championship game, ending a run of successful coordinating stints that dates back a decade, Wilcox is a big believer that all experiences – good and bad – are growing moments.
“These are all valuable experiences, some more enjoyable than others,” said Wilcox. “As long as you can take something and improve yourself as a person, as a coach, from each of those experiences, I think you can look at it and sleep good at night.”
Addressing the media for the first time since he was hired by Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst on Jan.28, Wilcox, 39, appears like the perfect replacement for Dave Aranda, who left for the same position at LSU on Jan.1 after a three-year run with the Badgers.
Wilcox ran a base 3-4 defense with the Trojans but utilized various looks off the formation based on opponents and personnel. It will be similar to what Wisconsin did last year, not surprising since Wilcox and Aranda have known one another for a decade and have shared film and ideas with each other.
“There’s a lot of similarities,” said Wilcox. “Some of the language may differ a little bit, but they played excellent defense. Kids play very fundamentally sound, they play hard, they are an aggressive team … That’s very similar to what my background has been.”
Wilcox’s background includes stops as the linebacker coach at California (2003-05) and defensive coordinator roles at Boise State (2006-09) Tennessee (2010-11), Washington (2012-13) and USC (2014-15).
In 2014, USC’s defense was in the nation’s top 20 in turnover margin, red zone defense and third-down conversion defense. Last year the Trojans led the Pac-12 in third-down conversion defense and scored five defensive touchdowns, good for third-best in the country, but stumbled to an 8-6 record after off-the-field problems – mainly the firing of head coach Steve Sarkisian – and defensive problems dominated the headlines.
One day after the 41-22 loss to Stanford, USC coach Clay Helton gave Wilcox and two other defensive coaches their walking papers.
In the event that Aranda would leave for another job, Chryst said he kept list of people he would be eager to speak to. Wilcox’s name was on it from the start, and when the two started meeting, their respective visions on fundamentals and schemes for the UW program all aligned.
“When this whole process started, it was important for us and for me to find a defensive coordinator that would be a great fit for this University,” said Chryst. “I think we did that. I’m excited about that. I know the other coaches are excited.”
Wilcox arrived on campus Friday night and said he’s been mostly in the film room watching tape of Wisconsin’s returning personnel. He sees potential and is ready to get his hands dirty with the group in the spring.
“The results are what drive this world of college football,” said Wilcox. “As long as we’re doing what we can to help the team win, I’ll sleep good at night.”