Justin Wilcox has compiled, by all measures, an eclectic coaching staff. He’s placed longtime veterans next to unknowns and upstarts, paired rising stars with known quantities, and even invited some former rivals into the fold. With his final addition to the group, Fresno State’s Tony Tuioti, Wilcox has made yet another interesting selection.
Tuioti, who will oversee Cal’s outside linebackers, is hardly an established LBs coach. He has spent as many years—two—working with defensive linemen as linebackers, a position group he last coached in 2013. He spent the last three seasons off the field entirely, working in various administrative roles for the Cleveland Browns and Michigan Wolverines. Now he’ll come back down from the coaches’ box for what could be his toughest job yet, reinvigorating Cal’s depleted linebacking corps.
Born in Samoa, Tuioti played his high school ball at Tustin CA’s Foothill High School before matriculating at the University of Hawaii in 1996. He was a valuable defensive lineman for the Rainbow Warriors, earning an All-WAC honorable mention in his junior season and helping to lead his team to a share of the WAC title the following year. Tuioti stayed on at his alma mater after graduation, spending the next two seasons there as a graduate assistant.
Tuioti then spent a few years coaching high school football in Hawaii and Nevada before returning to UH as Director of Player Personnel in 2008. He was upped to Defensive Tackles Coach in 2010, a year in which Hawaii would go on to win a WAC title. That made Tuioti only the second Rainbow Warrior to accomplish that feat as both a player and a coach.
Tuioti’s fifth and sixth seasons back in Honolulu saw him taking over the linebacking corps under new head coach Norm Chow. Those were lean years for Tuioti and the Rainbow Warriors, who went a combined 4-20. He finally moved on from his former college—and college football entirely—in 2014, when he took a job with the Cleveland Browns. As the Browns’ Defensive Quality Control Coach, Tuioti oversaw one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses: his team ranked second in interceptions and fourth in takeaways, all the while holding opponents to 21.1 points per game.
That success attracted the attention of Jim Harbaugh, who brought Tuioti to Michigan ahead of the 2016 season. As Director of Player Personnel, Tuioti is credited with developing UM’s satellite camp tour that brought the Wolverines to more than 30 destinations worldwide. He also helped to lock down Michigan’s third-ranked recruiting class, securing commitments from each of the state’s top six players.
With a backlog of talented coaches in front of him, Tuioti left Ann Arbor last December. Jeff Tedford offered him the defensive line job at Fresno State, a position he accepted and held for just under two months. That’s when Justin Wilcox poached him, making Tuioti the final addition to his staff.
In addition to his already substantial duties as OLBs coach, Tuioti will be called upon to organize Cal’s recruiting operation. His hiring makes sense given the strengths and weaknesses of the staff as currently composed; he can help first time head coach Wilcox with organizational structure, while Wilcox and the experienced Tim DeRuyter can support Tuioti’s work with the linebackers.
That arrangement seems to be emblematic of Wilcox’s overall strategy, taking calculated risks on less-proven coaches and pairing them with others that have complementary skill sets. There may be a ceiling on how successful that method can be in Tuioti’s case, owing to the amount of work to be done among Cal’s front seven. But he will be an immediate asset in Coach Wilcox’s recruiting push, almost certainly targeting Hawaii’s talent pipelines in addition to his overall duties.