New defensive guru praised by UT peers
Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2010 4:37 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox isn’t trying to match the coaching reputation of his predecessor, Monte Kiffin.
“When you step into a program like this, you’re always going to follow somebody good. Monte Kiffin is probably as well-respected a defensive coach as there is in the history of football,” Wilcox said. “I’m not trying to be Monte Kiffin. I’m just going to do the best job I can do preparing our team and preparing for coaches.”
So far he’s earning praise from his fellow Volunteers coaches.
“You already see a defense that flies around and hits people,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “Right now, they’re hitting us way too much, so yeah, whatever he’s doing is a working.”
Wilcox spent the last four seasons as defensive coordinator at Boise State, a school probably better known to Southeastern Conference fans for its creative offensive plays and blue playing field.
But Wilcox, who played defensive back at Oregon in the late ’90s, made a name for himself within the Western Athletic Conference with a defense that led the conference in total defense and scoring defense in all four seasons he was there.
Last year, the Broncos defense ranked 14th nationally in total defense, stifling a productive Oregon offense and unbeaten TCU in the Fiesta Bowl en route to a 14-0 record. Tennessee’s defense finished 22nd in the nation last season under Kiffin.
Wilcox’s Boise State defense also gave Louisiana Tech’s offense fits, and that caught the eye of coach Derek Dooley, who was determined to hire Wilcox after he landed the head coaching job at Tennessee.
“The No. 1 thing was watching how his players competed every Saturday,” Dooley said. “The effort and the toughness and the discipline — they were just fun to watch. They’re physical, they’re relentless, and they have a good scheme.
“If we can do those same things here, we’ll be in good shape,” he said.
Junior linebacker Nick Reveiz said the 33-year-old Wilcox is extremely personable and with a keen ability to relate to the players.
“He’s a great teacher,” Reveiz said. “That’s what sets him apart is how he can communicate with his players and teach them and get them to understand concepts, not just what to do but what other people are doing around them and behind them.”
The Vols have spent spring drills working mostly on fundamentals and techniques of the game — the things Wilcox says will make them good defensive players. Still, the personality of his defense has started to take shape, and the players describe it as multiple but easy to grasp.
“It’s really subtle, little differences that can maybe change a way an offense looks at you but on our end it’s not huge, wholesale change,” Wilcox said. “It’s just kind of part of the way we thought would be beneficial to us, giving those guys different looks but making it simple for us.”