Washington's defense was terrible last year. Perhaps the worst unit in school history. That's why third-year coordinator Nick Holt was fired.
And that's why Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian brought in Justin Wilcox from Tennessee. Wilcox, who became a rising star while running Chris Petersen's defense at Boise State, is charged with rebuilding a unit that has been mostly poor-to-middling since a dominant run under Don James and coordinator Jim Lambright in the 1980s and '90s.
Here's what Wilcox had to say as the Huskies get ready to start spring practices next week.
Looking back a bit, you left Boise State for Tennessee: How big of a change was that for you, jumping to the SEC?
Justin Wilcox: Obviously, there is great football in the SEC. It was a totally different experience, totally different environment. An awesome, unbelievable experience. Football is football, though. There was a lot of carry-over. There's a different style of offense that we played against. There were different things you dealt with. The recruiting was obviously different. The types of kids were different types of kids than we had at Boise State. There is scrutiny everywhere, there was scrutiny at Boise State, but there were a lot more people involved at Tennessee. That was definitely different -- not better or worse, just different. It was an awesome experience. I learned a ton.
The conventional wisdom is the SEC keeps winning national titles because it has the best talent. Is that your take during your time in Knoxville?
JW: I always hated to get into this because everybody would bring it up when I was at Tennessee -- that could Boise State play [in the SEC]? I would say, from top to bottom, from the conferences I've been in, [in the SEC] the physical ability was pretty substantial in terms of the depth and the size and speed of the kids down there. That doesn't mean there's not great football other places. There is great football other places. I would just say on a physical scale there were bigger guys. I don't want to get into comparing conferences and leagues, but there were some extremely talented guys playing down there. There's no doubt about that.
You're a West Coast guy: Did you always imagine you would return to the West Coast in your career?
JW: My time at Tennessee was unbelievable. It's a great place. A lot of unbelievable people there, some great kids. But you kind of are who you are. You grow up in certain places, and that's kind of what you are used to. Now in our profession, you don't get to choose where you work all the time, so I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to come back here. I was grateful because it is closer to home for me. That's not everything by any means -- that was a small part of it. The chance to work with Steve Sarkisian and knowing Washington as I was growing up, seeing Washington and knowing what this place is about is very appealing to me. So the big picture of it was this was an awesome opportunity. It wasn't necessarily just because I'm from the West. But I am who am. I'm from Junction City, Ore. That's not too far from here and my family is closer. That is exciting but that wouldn't be a sole reason by any means.
OK... this is fan-type question. You played at Oregon. Same for new Huskies LBs coach Peter Sirmon. Oregon and Washington have perhaps the most bitter rivalry in the Pac-12. Was there at least a momentary grin when you first donned the purple of Washington?
JW: This has come up before. I coached at Cal. I coached at Boise and we played Oregon. In our line of work, my allegiance is with the University of Washington. I am proud to be from where I am from. I had a great experience [at Oregon] as a player. I have a lot of great friends that I made there. They are both great places. I know sometimes the fans, it might be kind of a hard dynamic, but I know where my allegiance is now. But that doesn't mean I'm not proud of where I'm from, having gone to school at Oregon, and having been a part in that. I kind of got over that way back when though, when I was a young coach, when my first full-time job was at Cal and we played Oregon. I went through that three or four years after being out of college, so it was a little bit different then. I've been down that road. It's not hard for me to prepare for them. I'd prepare just as hard as I would for any other team. I know that's not an exciting, fun answer that you want but it's the truth.
In Part II, Wilcox talks specifics about philosophy, scheme, personnel and the future.