Justin Wilcox file
- Age: 33
- Position(s) Coaching: Defensive coordinator
- Hired: Feb. 2, 2010
- As a Coach: 2006-09 - Boise State (defensive coordinator); 2003-05 - California (linebackers); 2001-02 - Boise State (grad assistant/linebackers).
- As a Player: 1995-99 - Oregon. Played his first three seasons at safety, then moved to cornerback as a senior and was named All-Pac-10 second team. Played in four bowl games. He earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology.
- Personal: Is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Dave Wilcox, an All-Pro linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers.
The assessment is blunt and perhaps a bit too critical.
But when it comes to evaluating a former high school quarterback and defensive back to fit in his scheme, a rising coaching star simply can't take everybody.
So, sorry Justin Wilcox the Oregon cornerback. Justin Wilcox the Tennessee defensive coordinator would probably have to pass on a scholarship offer as he takes over and tries to shape the Vols into the fast, versatile image he has for them.
"This is a short conversation," Wilcox said. "I was very average - very average.
"I was able to play, and I had good coaches. But I went to college as a quarterback and changed over after my second fall and played safety for three years and then played corner my whole senior year. Got to play, but I was just, for playing corner and safety, I was a very average athlete to play that position. Basically I had to know the game, and that was about it."
That might be overstating things a bit for a second-team all-conference pick during his last year with the Ducks, though in terms of pure ability Wilcox might not be looking for cover guys much like himself to plug into the UT secondary.
Intellectually, though, Wilcox set himself apart from the crowd as a player and has continued to do the same as a coordinator, adapting schemes and mixing personnel seemingly from game to game to build some of the best units in the country over the last couple years at Boise State. And though the Broncos have brought in their share of impressive recruits lately, annually they aren't able to bring in the elite talent the SEC and the Vols attract - which is now at Wilcox the coach's disposal.
"Athletically I wasn't as good as most guys, but I knew more than they did," Wilcox said. "That was how I was able to play. I don't think I'm being too hard on myself. I'm sure my coaches would say the same thing. I don't have an over-inflated sense of much, and I think I have a pretty literal view of that stuff. I was average, and that doesn't mean I didn't play hard and all that. It's just a fact.
"But going through college, coaching really never crossed my mind. I got into a pro camp for like six practices and it was very obvious. Sometimes you just know when you're not meant to be somewhere, and that was that. I just knew I wasn't good enough."
That worked out well for Boise State and California since it set Wilcox on the coaching path early, and his impact on the sidelines is much more difficult to downplay.
During three seasons at Cal as a linebacker coach, the Golden Bears went to three straight bowls and he helped lead them to 26 wins. He parlayed that gig into the coordinator position with Boise State - returning after a two-year stint earlier as a graduate assistant - turning a program known for offensive fireworks into the best total and scoring defense in the Western Athletic Conference during each of his four years there.
His new program already has an established tradition of success on defense that he'll have to live up to, which Wilcox hasn't shied away from. He may be hard on the player he used to be, but there's been nothing average about his career as a coach so far.
"I always really enjoyed learning the game, probably because of the way I had to play," Wilcox said. "I had to be fundamental and I had to know what was going on, not only what I was doing but what the guys next to me were doing. That was the only way I was going to be halfway successful playing.
"So when I got into coaching, I was thinking, OK, if I can get the guys that are good athletes to know that, they're going to be pretty good."
And that will be the expectation for Wilcox with the Vols. He isn't looking for average.