Oregon job came with recruiting conditions that 'spooked' Justin Wilcox, per report
Justin Wilcox was reportedly “spooked” by a number of conditions relating to recruiting practices and assistant coach hires when he and Oregon discussed a potential move to make the current Cal head coach Mario Cristobal’s replacement in Eugene last December.
A report from ESPN this week detailed how the Ducks eventually pivoted from Cristobal, who left to take the head coaching gig at Miami shortly after the Pac-12 title game loss to Utah, to former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. But there’s an interesting nugget in it pertaining to the brief courtship of Wilcox, the Eugene native and Oregon alum.
From the report:
Sources close to Wilcox said the Oregon job initially came with some conditions related to the recruiting philosophy and possibly assistants to retain or hire. Those “spooked” the coach, one person said. Even when Oregon relaxed on some of those items, Wilcox didn’t feel he could run the program like he wanted. He turned down Oregon’s offer to become coach, sources said.
“It seemed like they wanted him to work in the gray area, and that’s really not him,” said a source close to Wilcox. “Justin is the kind of guy who likes to recruit kids that aren’t interested in the Recaro leather seats. After he made up his mind, he just stuck with it.”
Wilcox was Oregon’s starting point in its search for Cristobal’s replacement. Despite a mediocre record in five years at Cal (26-28), Oregon viewed Wilcox as a way to blend the old of what had made the program successful with the new climate of college football in which recruiting prowess reigns supreme.
According to ESPN, Oregon believed pairing Wilcox with an “innovative offensive coordinator” and a staff built around strong recruiters, the setup could be “close to an ideal succession” from Cristobal’s tenure to the new era.
Sounds a lot like what Oregon pulled off with Lanning, new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, and a staff of assistant coaches who have almost all, at one time or another, been among the top recruiters in the country.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens spoke to ESPN for the piece and said the Cristobal era—specifically the success he had recruiting nationally—informed the way they prioritized attributes in their next head coach. A hometown coach with roots in the program could be a plus, but it couldn’t be a starting point.
“[Cristobal] built a recruiting infrastructure that borrowed from his time at Alabama. There was a shift in how we structure the org chart for football recruiting and the approach in recruiting. Seeing that progress and that level of success, that certainly informed us as we went into the next search. … If you want to have an open and inclusive process, if you start with a connection to the institution, you narrow the field quickly. It could be an additive at the end of a process, but it’s difficult to start there.”
Lanning was hired on Dec. 11, five days after Cristobal officially left for Miami. Oregon seems to be more than pleased with where it landed.