Former players and influential alumni were among the audience in Memorial Stadium's Field Club and applause serenaded athletic director Mike Williams when he introduced Wilcox as "the perfect fit for Cal." If he goes 4-8 his first year, the greeting might not be so warm, but right now he is undefeated and his fan base is energized.
"This is a great day," said former linebacker David Ortega. "Just a great day."
"It's a great addition," said former quarterback J Torchio, who runs the Cal Grid Club, an organization of influential alumni.
Speaking clearly and eloquently, if not always informatively, Wilcox outlined his vision for Cal, winning games with athletes who perform well academically. Now, Sonny Dykes said much the same thing four years ago, but Wilcox comes off a little differently. The oversized Dykes looked like the lineman he once was. Wilcox, who was a standout defensive back in Oregon looks as comfortable in a business suit as he did in shoulder pads. With his neatly trimmed dark hair and steady gaze, he looks like he could easily sell you a life insurance policy.
In the process of assembling a coaching staff and keeping track of the recruiting process, Wilcox, 40, who returns to Berkeley after a 13-year absence most recently as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, has had little time to get into the actual job of coaching football. He didn't offer much Tuesday about his philosophies.
Defense, of course, is Wilcox's specialty and he and his staff will have some work to do on his new job. The Bears were among the worst in the country last year. As far as strategy in that department, he will see what the talent level is before he starts putting together game plans.
"My background is three-four base and four-two-five nickel and we're going to implement those things," he said, and that's as far as he was going to go with the "Xs and Os". "At the end of the day it will be what we can do the best to fit our players. We may change the recruiting model a little bit."
As for the offensive "recruiting model" Wilcox did say several times during the 30-minute session that he would be looking for "tight-end body types", giving emphasis to a position that was all but ignored in the four years Dykes was running his sometimes madcap "Bear Raid" offense.
That comment gives a hint Wilcox and his offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin will include more of a run-oriented power-based attack than Dykes did. But beyond that, Wilcox was circumspect about his plans. During the session with the media he wouldn't even officially acknowledge that Baldwin was coming aboard, although Baldwin had said his much when he announced his resignation as Eastern Washington's head coach. Wilcox did refer (wink wink) to an offensive coordinator "you all know about". Later in the afternoon the university officially announced Baldwin's hiring, along with that of Steve Greatwood as offensive line coach.
Saying he was in the process of putting together a coaching staff, Wilcox offered no other specifics about candidates. One name that has been the source of considerable speculation is reportedly no longer in the picture. Tosh Lupoi, a recruiter extraordinaire who was a defensive line coach in Berkeley for four years under Jeff Tedford, is staying at Alabama according to Fox Sports.
Wilcox said there was no shortage of qualified candidates, he said he would needed to move quickly but would not act in haste even though recruiting is about to get underway in earnest.
"Every second is critical right now, but we will not sacrifice the long-term good of the program to appease what everyone wants for the certainty in hiring," Wilcox said. "For the recruits I understand they have to make their minds up. I would feel the same way. So it's important for us to communicate with them, talk about our vision of the program. The other thing is to keep in mind is the power of Cal. A young man who showed up on campus just days ago and chose to come to school here regardless of the uncertainty. That shows what this place is."
He was probably referring to one of the three freshmen who enrolled this week and said he has been in touch with some players who committed to Cal when Dykes was in charge but now might be wavering.
"It's to be expected, they are going through some emotional times right now," he said. "We've had some discussions and they have some questions. It's our job to answer them."
If any athlete who previously committed has changed his mind, Wilcox wasn't saying.
He shrugged off the academic constraints that the administration placed on the football operation. Without being specific, he indicated that the requirements at Wisconsin were similar to those in Berkeley.
"There are challenges everywhere," he said. "We value that. We know that not every student is going to be a 4.0 (grade point average). We also know that guys who fit into this category, will want work, will want the challenge in the classroom, in the field. There's no easy way about it, but we are looking forward to working with those guys."
Williams said that he interviewed a short list of five head-coaching candidates, whom he declined to name. He said any of them would have been a good choice, but he said that Wilcox clearly was the one he preferred.
"As a former assistant coach for us, Justin understands what it takes to succeed at Cal, both on the field and in the classroom," Williams said. "As a linebackers coach at Cal (2003-2005) he was a vital part of three teams that went finished a combined 26-12 and advanced to three postseason bowl games.
He left Cal in 2006 for Boise State, then began a decade of assistant coaching positions in high profile programs. Unlike many assistants who dream of becoming a head coach, Wilcox said that was never a goal. "It was a great experience coming here in 2003, and it's been a long journey. Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, USC and Wisconsin. It's literally been a winding road. …I never set out to be a head coach. I know some of the narratives out there, that's what it's all about. For me it's always been can you leave a lasting influence on people.
"I think talking to the administration we share what it's really all about, helping the guys experience being at Cal, on and off the field, and how humbling that can be to be important to somebody's life."
In his coaching experiences, Wilcox naturally had numerous role models. "I've seen it done a lot of different ways," he said, getting no more specific. And he reached out to several while he was considering the Cal job, but again declined to give names. Although he repeatedly stressed that he "learned a lot" from Tedford during their time at Cal together, Wilcox said the newly named Fresno State coach was not among those whose guidance he sought when considering the Cal job.
Dave Wilcox, Justin's father was a standout linebacker for Oregon State and the 49ers and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Wilcox was asked what his dad's opinion was of the new job. He had an interesting response that reflects their relationship. Justin knew Dave as more a man of the land than one of the gridiron.
"My dad's in the Hall of Fame, but before he was in the Hall of Fame he was a 'Hall of Farmer', that's how I knew him. We didn't talk about football other than any normal conversation a father or son would have about football.
"He was a farmer who had played football in the past. Then in 2000, after I got out of college a bunch of you decided he was a Hall of Famer and his life changed. We could probably have a sociology course on that. He didn't make me watch videos of him or see his trophies, Yeah I think he's probably excited but he'd be excited either way."
- Baldwin has been a head coach in the NCAAs lesser category, the FCS for ten years. The last nine he was at Eastern Washington, where he won 11 or more games five times and took home one national championship.
- Greatwood has a 37-year coaching career, including 32 in two different stints at Oregon. He most recently was the Ducks offensive line coach from 2005 through 2016.
- Wilcox has three additions to the roster who will enroll in the spring semester and be eligible immediately. They are DL Gabe Cherry (Bakersfield, CA/Centennial HS), DB Elijah Hicks (La Mirada, CA/La Mirada HS) and WR Taariq Johnson (Buena Park, CA/Buena Park HS). Cherry is rated as high as the nation's No. 30 strong-side defensive end according to Rivals while Scout has him as the No. 3 defensive tackle in California and No. 8 in the West. Hicks was a versatile prep standout on offense, defense and special teams who is rated as high as the nation's No. 19 athlete according to Rivals. Johnson is a four-star recruit and member of the prestigious ESPN300 list who ranks as high as the nation's No. 37 wide receiver and No. 273 player overall by ESPN.