SEATTLE (AP) — Justin Wilcox is leaving Tennessee for a chance to be the answer to Washington’s defensive woes.
Washington announced the hiring of Wilcox as the Huskies new defensive coordinator on Monday with the hope that Wilcox’s return to the Pacific Northwest will equal a return to prominence for the Huskies defense. Wilcox will replace Nick Holt, who was fired Saturday after Washington surrendered 777 yards and 67 points in an Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. It was the most yards ever allowed by Washington and the second-most points and came on a national staged that exposed all of the Huskies weaknesses.
It’s now up to Wilcox to fix those holes.
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“I’m grateful for this opportunity,” Wilcox said in a statement. “Washington is a place where you can win big, and I’m excited to work with coach Sarkisian in developing a championship-caliber football program. Our first order of business is hitting the recruiting trail, and I can’t wait to get started.”
ESPN.com first reported Wilcox’s hiring.
Wilcox isn’t coming alone. Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon is leaving Tennessee as well to take the same job with the Huskies. Both Wilcox and Sirmon have significant Northwest ties — each played at Oregon and Wilcox’s big break came as defensive coordinator for Boise State.
Along with Holt, Washington also dismissed linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills. The moves came after Washington had the worst statistical defense in school history.
“I am excited to welcome Justin and Peter to Washington, as they are two of the brightest young coaches in the country,” Sarkisian said. “Both are natives of the Northwest and have strong recruiting ties in the area which compliments their tremendous coaching abilities.”
Wilcox and Sirmon are the latest in a string of departures from Tennessee, which is still struggling to rebuild after back-to-back coaching turnovers following the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett and tight ends and special teams coach Eric Russell also have left the staff of Volunteers coach Derek Dooley.
Wilcox’s defense was one of the bright spots in a disappointing 5-7 season for Tennessee. The Vols allowed 340.5 yards and 22.6 points per game, ranking them among the top 35 teams in the nation in both categories.
Wilcox, 35, was set to earn $700,000 at Tennessee in 2012. He and Sirmon were teammates and roommates Oregon, though Wilcox first made a name for himself in four seasons as defensive coordinator at Boise State, where his players lead the Western Athletic Conference in total defense and scoring defense from 2006-2009 and compiled a 49-4 overall record.
Sirmon, 34, a veteran NFL linebacker, spent the 2010 season as a graduate assistant for the Vols and was promoted to linebackers coach for 2011. He was set to earn $175,000 in 2012.
Washington officials said contract details had not been finalized for either Wilcox or Sirmon.
The pair will be stepping in to lead a defense with ongoing troubles that were highlighted in the loss to Baylor. The Huskies gave up 65 points, 446 yards rushing and 615 total yards to Stanford this season, then another 40 points and 426 yards to Southern California. Even when the Huskies held Oregon to under 400 total yards, it came in a 34-17 defeat.
Only four times in 13 games this season did Washington hold an opponent under 400 total yards, and just 11 times in Holt’s 38 games in charge of the Huskies defense. Washington’s 2011 defense set school records for most points allowed, total touchdowns, yards passing allowed and total yards allowed.
Holt’s firing came almost three years to the day after he was introduced as the defensive answer to Washington’s woes. He was wooed from Southern California by a contract that trumped that of some other head coaches in the conference and the autonomy to run the defense as he wanted. Holt was scheduled to make $650,000 in 2012.
Even though he’s an Oregon grad, Washington fans might be enticed by what Wilcox was able to do against his alma mater while at Boise State. Wilcox was 2-0 against the Ducks, including the 2009 season opener when Boise State beat Oregon 19-8 and held the Ducks to 152 yards in a game that became more memorable for a postgame punch and not the Broncos defensive performance. It’s one of just two games in the last 10 years that Oregon has been held under 200 yards of offense.
Wilcox left Boise State after the 2009 season when the Broncos finished 14-0 and beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.