Wilcox looks to keep Badgers rolling on defense
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and Justin Wilcox clicked soon after they started talking about the Badgers' vacant defensive coordinator job.
They shared similar philosophies about how to run a defense, and Wilcox had experience coordinating defenses at high-profile programs.
The spotlight is on Wilcox again as he takes over one of the stingiest defenses in the nation over the last three seasons. Wilcox, 39, was formally introduced on Monday as the Badgers' new coordinator.
There was no time to waste.
"No. 1 goal -- I've got flash cards -- names and places and numbers -- and I'm learning those guys and (getting) to know them," Wilcox said.
He takes over for the wildly successful Dave Aranda, who left Wisconsin after three seasons to take the same position at SEC power LSU. That move likely came with a significant raise for Aranda, whose annual salary at Wisconsin was about $520,000.
The Badgers finished first in scoring defense and second in total defense in 2015. Wisconsin never dropped below 17th in scoring defense or seventh in total defense during Aranda's tenure.
In steps Wilcox, who also has a lot of big-game experience. He knows Aranda from when they were assistants in the former Western Athletic Conference.
Aranda was a defensive line coach and coordinator at Hawaii. Wilcox was Boise State's defensive coordinator when the Broncos went 13-0 and beat powerhouse Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in a memorable Fiesta Bowl in the 2006 season.
Wilcox also spent two seasons as the coordinator at Tennessee, and another two at Washington, where he led a dramatic improvement in the Huskies defense. He then ran into the problems at Southern California.
In 2014, USC was in the top 20 in turnover margin, red zone defense and third-down conversion defense. But Wilcox's defense struggled for stretches last season despite a wealth of five-star talent.
There were unusual circumstances around the team after coach Steve Sarkisian was fired in October. Clay Helton took over as interim coach, and then fired Wilcox after taking over the job permanently in December.
Wilcox didn't go into much detail into his time at USC, instead choosing to focus on the future.
"The first thing I always try to take away in this business of football -- things happen," Wilcox said. "These experiences are all valuable, some are more enjoyable than others."
At Wisconsin, Wilcox will be working under an offensive-minded head coach. Chryst said the Badgers would remain a 3-4 base defense, and would continue to shake up their fronts when warranted.
It makes sense especially when the strength of the 2016 defense figures to be the linebacking corps -- again -- with Vince Biegel on the outside, and T.J. Edwards and Chris Orr inside after promising freshman seasons.
"We found common ground on the fact that what drives it most is personnel, and also being sound," Chryst said about his conversations with Wilcox. "I believe in the 3-4, it's kind of what we recruited to and the team has been made up in the past."
The addition of Wilcox gives Wisconsin a full coaching staff with Signing Day coming up on Wednesday, the first day that high school seniors can formally declare where they intend to play in college.
Spring practice begins in March. The Badgers also announced Monday that the spring game would take place on April 23.