Justin Wilcox was working in a Eugene furniture store in early 2001 when the call — and his calling — arrived all at once. "It's true to say...
Justin Wilcox was working in a Eugene furniture store in early 2001 when the call — and his calling — arrived all at once.
“It’s true to say that when I was moving furniture, that coaching sounds great,” Wilcox remembered Saturday of the offer that came that day to become a graduate assistant working for an old college coach.
And on Dec. 22, when the Huskies play in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State, as UW defensive coordinator he will be on the opposite sideline of the man who made that call, Bronco linebackers coach Bob Gregory. Gregory was Wilcox’s position coach (secondary) when he played at Oregon.
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Wilcox, who at the time was just a year removed from his playing career at Oregon, spent the 2001-02 seasons as a graduate assistant at Boise State, beginning a coaching career that he now looks back on as almost inevitable.
“As soon as I started as a graduate assistant, I really enjoyed it,” he said.
He then moved to Cal, where Gregory was the defensive coordinator for Jeff Tedford, becoming a full-time assistant for the first time in 2003 (Gregory returned to Boise State in 2010).
In 2006, Wilcox returned to Boise State to serve as the defensive coordinator for Chris Petersen — who remains the BSU coach — staying for four seasons as the Broncos became an unlikely perennial college football power.
All of those tight connections and relationships might make for a potentially juicy subplot to the UW-Boise State bowl game.
The ever-pragmatic Wilcox, though, took great pains to downplay that angle Saturday when talking to reporters. He’s thankful for the opportunity his friends at Boise State gave him. But come game time, he doesn’t figure it will impact anything.
“You watch the tape and it’s the same things, it’s the same offense,” Wilcox said. “They’ve got good kids running it and they coach it really well. But unless coach Pete tells us what play they are running beforehand, there is really no advantage (to the fact that he worked there previously).”
Not even in knowing that at some point Boise State is likely to attempt what has become one of its bowl-game staples — a trick play. Wilcox says he wishes he had divined some sort of indicator of when they might happen. Alas, he says he’ll just try to prepare UW as well as he can if Boise State does try one.
“They will have something,” Wilcox said. “And they do a great job with the gadget plays and execute them really well. But they don’t just run trick plays. They will run power, and the passing game, it’s very well put together. It’s all of those things.”
Indeed, Wilcox said it’ll be the same every-game basics of studying what Boise State does now, devising a game plan, teaching it well and then having the players execute it that will be the key in the Vegas Bowl.
Last year, the Huskies allowed a school-record 467 points and 35.9 points per game, which led to the firing of Nick Holt. Entering the bowl game, UW has allowed 286 points and 23.8 per game.
It was a performance that only further enhanced the reputation of the 35-year-old Wilcox, who was already regarded as one of the leading young assistants in the country when UW hired him away from Tennessee.
In recent weeks, Wilcox has made plenty of lists of potential candidates for coaching jobs.
To date, there have been no reports linking him to specific jobs. Saturday, he said his plan is to remain at UW.
“Don’t get caught up in the rumor mill,” he advised reporters. “That’s dangerous business. There is nothing to talk about, let’s put it that way.”
Wilcox is completing the first year of a guaranteed three-year contract at UW that pays him $750,000 this year, $800,000 in 2013 and $850,000 in 2014.
UW athletic director Scott Woodward said he and coach Steve Sarkisian will review after the season whether there is any need to alter or enhance contracts for assistants — all nine have contracts through at least the 2013 season.
The reality, though, is that there’s little UW could do to stop Wilcox from taking a head-coaching job should one be offered.
But he insisted Saturday that’s not something he spends much time thinking about.
“I love what I am doing,” he said. “I don’t sit around at my desk at night saying, ‘How can I become a head coach?’ I don’t. It’s sitting around thinking, ‘How are we going to stop power when they go fly motion?’ That’s it.”
He knows as well as anyone how big a challenge that will be the next two weeks.