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Cal head coach Justin Wilcox has important ties to upcoming rival Washington

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 3, 2017

California head coach Justin Wilcox watches during the first half of his team’s early-September game against North Carolina. (Gerry Broome / AP)
California head coach Justin Wilcox watches during the first half of his team’s early-September game against North Carolina. (Gerry Broome / AP)
By Adam Jude Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The job offer came soon after Justin Wilcox had been cut during his first NFL training camp.

It came from his old position coach at Oregon, Bob Gregory.

“Hey,” Gregory recalls asking, “do you want to be a GA?”

Gregory had once called Wilcox one of the sharpest, smartest players he had ever coached. Now he was calling to offer Wilcox the chance to be a college coach.

Wilcox accepted, reuniting with Gregory as a graduate assistant at Boise State in 2001.

“And that’s how it started,” said Gregory, the Boise State defensive coordinator then and the Washington linebackers coach now.

Gregory and Wilcox have remained close, and Gregory on Tuesday was quite complimentary of the job Wilcox has done in his first year as a head coach at California. Wilcox’s admiration for Gregory is evident too as the two prepare to reunite again Saturday night – this time as rivals when Wilcox’s Bears head to Husky Stadium to take on the No. 6 Huskies.

Gregory, Wilcox said, was “extremely” influential in his coaching career.

“He’s maybe the No. 1 reason I got into the coaching profession, because of him and the type of person that he was,” Wilcox said Tuesday. “I just respect him so much – the way he treats people, the type of teacher he was and is.”

In its 3-0 start this season, Cal (0-2 Pac-12) was one of the conference’s biggest surprises. Gregory credits Wilcox.

“You can see a difference in Cal already,” he said. “I think the biggest difference is how hard they play. He’s got guys in the right spots on both sides of the ball, and they’re playing hard.”

Wilcox was a safety at Oregon in the late 1990s before switching to cornerback for his senior season in 1999. He didn’t allow a single touchdown pass that season, Gregory recalled, and was a second-team All-Pac-10 selection.

After Wilcox spent two years as a GA at Boise State – which coincided with Chris Petersen’s first two season as Boise’s offensive coordinator – he was hired again by Gregory, this time as the linebackers coach at Cal. (Gregory was the defensive coordinator at Cal from 2002-09.)

Once Petersen was promoted to head coach at Boise in 2006, he hired Wilcox, then just 29 years old, as his first defensive coordinator. Wilcox spent four seasons as the coordinator there, and the Broncos went 49-4 in those four seasons.

“I just think he’s a good football coach,” Petersen said this week. “I’ve known that for a long time, whether he’s running the defense or a whole team. He knows how to coach the guys, get ’em going.”

Wilcox was later hired by Steve Sarkisian to be the Huskies’ defensive coordinator, and he spent the 2012 and ’13 seasons in that role. In 2011, the Huskies ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (35.9 points per game). In Wilcox’s first season, UW improved to fourth in the Pac-12, allowing 24.2 points per game. In 2013, the Huskies allowed 22.8 points per game on a team that went 9-4. Wilcox then followed Sarkisian to USC.

UW linebacker Sean Constantine, a fifth-year senior, was recruited by Wilcox out of Bellevue High. He recalls Wilcox as a passionate football junkie.

“You could just tell he really loved his job and was passionate about it,” Constantine said. “Any little thing, he was on top of it. It was really cool seeing that, being there my first year. He was passionate about his players – he wanted you to succeed and he wanted you to do well.”

Coaching traits that Wilcox said he learned from Gregory.

“Really can’t say enough good things about Bob Gregory,” Wilcox said. “He’s a first-class human being and coach.”

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