BERKELEY, Calif. — California has hired Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox as its new head coach to replace the fired Sonny Dykes.
A person familiar with the move confirmed the hiring on Saturday, less than a week after Dykes' surprising firing. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the school had not announced it. ESPN first reported that Wilcox had finalized a five-year contract with the Golden Bears.
Athletic director Mike Williams said he made the move to fire Dykes at the unusual time of six weeks after the end of season in part because he wanted a coach committed to Cal after Dykes flirted with various job openings in recent years and needed someone who could excite a fan base that had grown apathetic in recent years.
He hopes Wilcox does just that. The son of NFL Hall of Famer and former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dave Wilcox, has never been a head coach before but did spend three years as linebackers coach at Cal from 2003-05 under Jeff Tedford and has been a defensive coordinator for the past 11 seasons at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California and Wisconsin.
The Badgers ranked seventh in total defense and fourth in scoring defense in Wilcox's one season at Wisconsin.
The change from Dykes to Wilcox is a dramatic one. Dykes' "Bear Raid" offense put up big numbers in his four seasons at Cal behind quarterbacks Jared Goff and Davis Webb but the Bears struggled each year defensively, in part because of the fast pace of the offense and the lack of enough strength on both sides of the ball.
Cal ranked 125th in total defense, 127th in scoring defense and 122nd in yards per play out of 128 FBS teams last season on the way to a 5-7 record. Dykes finished his tenure with a 19-30 record, with his only winning mark coming when the Bears went 8-5 in 2015 in Goff's final season before becoming the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Dykes and the administration seemed to be at odds after that 2015 season during a prolonged negotiation of a contract extension. The deal was finally worked out and Dykes' deal was extended through the 2019 season. Cal owes Dykes more than $5 million under terms of the deal finalized in March because he was fired without cause, although that will be off-set by money he earns at any job he gets during the next three seasons.
The problems only got worse when Dykes showed interest after last season in the openings at Baylor and Houston.
The Bears had been consistent winners for nearly a decade under Tedford, with only one losing season from 2002-09. Things started to slip after that. The athletic department struggled financially and the football team's Academic Progress Rating of 930 was the worst in the Pac-12 at the end of Tedford's tenure.
The academics bounced back under Dykes, posting APRs of 969, 946 and 997 the past three years to raise the four-year average to 960 — the program's highest since 2008-09. But on the field there were few victories, despite record-breaking offenses.