Berkeley isn’t Tuscaloosa, or Ann Arbor. Cal is known for academics, not athletics. Then again, so is Stanford, and therein lies the challenge for the new guy with the Golden Bears, Justin Wilcox.
To win a game now and then from the Cardinal, to restore a sense of respectability to the football program, maybe even — to dream — make it to Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
Wilcox — 40, trim, handsome, experienced, spare of words — was introduced as Cal’s coach Tuesday, standing in a well-appointed room beneath the western rim of Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.
In a region of transplants, the college game does get the attention of the NFL — come on 49ers, name your coach; come on Raiders, don’t run off to Vegas — but there are 50,000 Cal alumni or more in Northern Cal. And all they really want in sports is to beat Sanford (the Bears have lost seven straight) and — lordy, just once — to get to the Rose Bowl, where Cal hasn’t played since New Year’s Day 1959. Joe Kapp was quarterback.
It wouldn’t hurt either to knock off USC now and then, either. Cal has lost 13 in a row to the Trojans, its last win coming in 2003, when, lo, Justin Wilcox was an assistant. Yes, he knows the territory. And having been at SC, among other locations, he knows success.
There wasn’t a lot of rhetoric, just a few words of acknowledgment. As his dad, Dave Wilcox, the Hall of Fame linebacker from the 49ers generations past, Justin is a country boy from Oregon the state and Oregon the school. Action, not talk, is his style.
Wilcox did tell of the hiring of two assistants, offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin from Eastern Washington and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, long with Wilcox’s alma mater. Yes, those Northwest people stay together.
“Our goal is pretty simple,” said Wilcox, “to compete for championships and graduate student athletes, leave them with a fulfilling experience in Berkeley.”
The alumni probably like one more item of which Wilcox has no control, playing some of Cal’s home football games before the sun goes down. But TV wants night games, and so there are night games.
Day or night, Wilcox plans to utilize a 3-4 defense. The offense will be Baldwin’s, but the team will be recruiting tight ends or halfbacks, indicating a reliance on the run. When Wilcox was linebackers coach at Cal, 2003-05, the head coach, Jeff Tedford used a pro-set.
“We’ll do what is best for our players,” said Wilcox, meaning until he and the staff get the ones they need, discretion will be in evidence. If there’s no Aaron Rodgers (who was quarterback when Wilcox was a Cal assistant), then why throw 40 times a game? Or as under Sonny Dykes, 50 times.
“There’s talent on the team,” said Wilcox. What there wasn’t under Dykes was enough wins, mostly because there wasn’t enough defense. Cal was 127th in points per game allowed, 125th in yards per game allowed.
The axiom is that defense wins, so it makes sense for Cal to bring in someone who has spent a couple of decades developing techniques and ideas that will stop the other team.
Someone wondered why Cal did so well under Tedford, who had winning seasons 2002-09 but went 3-9 in his last year 2012.
“A lot of levels to that,” said Wilcox. “Discipline, attention to detail, excellent players. When you get a run like that, a lot of things go right.”
Which is what a school wants from a coach.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.