These responses were gathered last week before the hirings of multiple assistant coaches.
What is your initial reaction to the hiring of Justin Wilcox and why?
LeonPowe: As someone who is on the side of conservatism when it comes to coaching changes - and one of Sonny Dykes last remaining defenders it's pretty exciting. First, about Sonny, I really really appreciated the culture change and academics improvement he brought about in contrast to the end of the Tedford era. Making the football team more accessible, singing the fight song, coming over to the band after the game - very tiny meaningless things which I really enjoyed - as opposed to the Tedford era where it was very clear this was the team and everyone else is on the outside. So I really like Coach Dukes for that - and I always felt he was a good man who wanted to do the best for his team and the school.
But this years flirtations with Baylor and Houston - while I wouldn't say they soured me on everything, it did make me ok with the idea of a staff turnover. And so here we are.
I never really thought of a candidate for replacement in all of those articles because I don't know the secondary level of the college coaching carousel very well. But what I do know is this - if we were going to go with a new coach, I wanted him to be young and unknown (ish) - some schools can succeed with established coaches, but I don't think we're one of them. Dealing with the Cal environment and . . . baggage, can be trying. I think a young coach is better equipped to do that.
With the assistant coach hires so far, as well as the support from football alums and other connected people, this seems to be as close to the right hire as possible.
Now it's time to back it up on the field - well maybe in 2018.
Andy Johnston: LeonPowe really nailed it. To start, a lot of what Sonny did at Cal has been lost since his departure. The last season was underwhelming and even at our peak, our on field performance never really matched expectations. However what he accomplished in regards to our academic turnaround was badly needed and seeing the players take pride in their academics was a breath of fresh air. I am extremely happy and grateful for what coach Dykes was able to build at Cal and hopefully in the future we will welcome him back as a visitor with an ovation.
Onto the Wilcox hire, it is about as good as you could get. The fanbase feels energized, our alumni (both players and old blues) are vocally excited about the next few seasons. There is excitement in the air in Berkeley for the first time in a while (other than Rob and myself) and the momentum (don't kill me Nick) is palpable. The biggest reason why I am excited is that Wilcox has a great reputation around the league and other coaches are eager to jump in and work with him. If he has that level of respect amongst his peers, it will only be a matter of time until he creates the same respect in the recruiting circles that matter most. I cannot wait for football season.
Ruey Yen: I am cautiously optimistic by the hiring of Justin Wilcox and the staff announced thus far. For all the great thing that Sonny Dykes and his staff did to turn around the academic and creating a bit of a "California pride" culture, it does appear quite clear that Dykes had a house flipping mentality at Cal. He was going to make a quick turnaround at Cal and then move on to a different job (preferably in the state of Texas). Had Dykes actually have had more successes in his Cal tenure (beat Stanford and/or USC), the only difference this offseason may have been that Cal Athletics do not have to pay Dykes' buyout.
With Wilcox, based mostly from his press conference, we are getting a guy who understands Berkeley. Equally as important, Wilcox clearly has a better relationship (right now) with AD Mike Williams than Sonny Dykes. We shall see if Wilcox actually uses the diversity of Berkeley to his advantage in recruiting, but he's saying the right things to appease to Cal fans. It is particularly comforting to hear Cal Football alum showing their support to Wilcox on social media. While attendance should be up in the fall just out of curiosity, Wilcox is not yet a big splashy name that will draw in the (current) non-Cal fans in NorCal (unlike a Chip Kelly hire). The hope is, Wilcox will not only be successful on the field, but he also sees the Cal job as a destination job.
Now comes the tough part, we fans have to be both patient and realistic to see if Justin Wilcox can bring Cal to the promise land that is the Rose Bowl in the next decade.
boomtho. Like LP, I'd like to start by recognizing the job Sonny did in turning around the bad situation that Tedford left us with at the end of his tenure. Sonny was by no means perfect, but he ran a clean program, focused on academics and team culture, won some pretty great national recruiting battles (e.g., D-Rob) and did some cool Cal things like having the team conduct the fight song after victories. He really helped stabilize what was a shaky situation - so thanks Coach Dykes for that.
Now, onto Wilcox. At first, I was pretty taken aback by the timing of Dykes' firing (not the move itself). Doing it a month before National Signing Day and after most jobs had been filled seemed odd. With reports circulating that Mike Williams had to wait to navigate the UC bureaucracy and IA Taskforce, I now understand why the timing seemed odd.
As to Coach Wilcox himself, I think it's a good hire with a ton of potential to grow. He has Cal ties, defensive expertise, significant West Coast experience, and should be reasonably well equipped to execute a fast-ish turnaround. The outpouring from his players (both Cal and others) has been pretty great. In addition, I'm optimistic based on the early returns of his staff. On Twitter, Nam has done a good job comparing the West Coast experience of Dykes' and Wilcox's staff... suffice to say, Wilcox is really focusing on hiring coaches with West Coast ties. To focus on one, the Greatwood hire seems like a home run.
In the short term, next year is going to be tough. As of now (1/18), there are only 11 committed recruits in this year's class, and Wilcox is going to have to try to rebuild a defense with severe limitations. Longer term, however, Wilcox should prove to be at least an above average coach in the Pac-12, which would give us a decent chance to be a contender in the North in a couple years.
atomsareenough: Unlike my initial reaction to the Dykes hire (which was negative), I was cautiously optimistic about this when it was first announced, and so far based on the staff he's hired, I'm becoming even more optimistic by the day.
First off, I'm hugely encouraged that we fired Dykes in the first place. I thought for sure, since he had just signed an extension in 2015, that we were going to suck it up and just punt on 2017 and wait to fire him after we missed another bowl game next year, when the buyout would be about $2M lower. The fact that the administration's will to pull the trigger and the availability of donor funds were both strong enough to eat $6M is a good sign that we're serious about having a successful football program, even if it's a steep price to pay in the short run for a cash-strapped athletic department.
Anyway, on to the hiring of Wilcox. Among the names available, Wilcox was probably the best realistic choice. In a vacuum, I naturally would have preferred Ron Rivera, but clearly he wasn't ready to leave the NFL a year after reaching the Super Bowl. And no, Chip Kelly wasn't coming, and he would have been a lousy fit anyway. This late in the cycle, that meant Wilcox and Spavital were the best available choices, and I preferred Wilcox to Spav. While Wilcox, like Spav, does not have any experience as a head coach, he's been at a number of major programs, he's worked for some great head coaches, and he seems like a solid, detail-oriented type of guy who is ready and unquestionably experienced enough to take the reins of a power-5 program. Also he's had a couple brief stops in B1G and SEC country, he's truly a West Coast guy at heart, he's already worked at Cal (and wanted to come back anyway!) and had multiple other stops in the Pac-12... It feels like he would want to be here for the long haul.
That's a breath of fresh air after 2 years of Sonny's wandering eye. His remarks about recruiting outward from the Bay Area indicate that he gets the need to protect our own backyard as the flagship UC. Recruiting nationally is great too, but you're dependent on more longshots and you're more likely to whiff if you're not already a successful program.
I like that he's a defensive coach, who can presumably have a meaningful impact on our beleaguered defense, and also that he seems to have a clear plan in his head for both sides of the ball. Dykes was an offensive-oriented guy, but his glaring weakness was that he didn't have the awareness to identify and hire a top-notch defensive staff to complement his offense.
So far, Wilcox has hit it out of the park with the 3 names we've gotten so far on the offensive side of the football. Beau Baldwin is a brilliant, fantastic hire as OC. There aren't many better, more widely respected O-line coaches around than Steve Greatwood. Nick Edwards is a charismatic young up-and-comer with stellar results so far and has worked very successfully with Baldwin for the last 3 years as a WR coach, having just developed the top wide receiver in FCS history in Cooper Kupp. With what I expect to be a solid defensive staff put together by a guy who knows defense well, I really like our prospects to be good on both sides of the ball within a couple years. I'd like to hear more about Wilcox's game management philosophy and other things, but so far, I'm quite happy with the way this is taking shape.