Now that California has officially announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox as its head coach, the University of Wisconsin football program is in search of a replacement to run its defense for the second year in a row.
Some things have changed since UW hired Wilcox to replace now-LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — namely the potential compensation the program has allocated for the position.
Wilcox made $500,000 during his only year in Madison but was set to earn $950,000 in 2017 before departing for the Golden Bears’ top job.
UW’s willingness to pay that amount of money for its new hire could enhance the pool of outside candidates. Coach Paul Chryst and the Badgers, though, also will likely take a strong look at a couple of coaches already on staff to take Wilcox’s place.
Outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar interviewed for the position last year before Wilcox got the job. Tibesar was Purdue’s defensive coordinator in 2012 and served in that same role for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in 2011.
UW’s other in-house candidate is defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard, a former All-American safety at UW and 10-year NFL veteran. The Badgers ranked 30th nationally in passing defense last season and tied for second in interceptions.
Leonhard, 34, only has one year of coaching experience, making it questionable whether UW would promote him this early in his career.
Cal fired former coach Sonny Dykes about six weeks after its season ended and fairly late in the process of the coaching carousel, meaning the Badgers may have missed out on some potential candidates from outside the program that have already accepted other jobs.
Former UW linebacker Todd Orlando followed Tom Herman and became Texas’ defensive coordinator in December after two successful seasons at Houston.
A potential hire with ties to UW could be Charlie Partridge, who was fired as Florida Atlantic’s coach in November after compiling a 9-27 record in three seasons.
Partridge served as the Badgers’ defensive line coach from 2008-12 and held the title of co-defensive coordinator and associate head coach from 2011-12. Chryst worked with Partridge when Chryst was UW’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11.
Perhaps Kentucky inside linebackers coach Matt House also will get a look. He was Chryst’s defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh from 2013-14 and helped lead the Panthers to a top-35 national ranking in total defense in each of those seasons.
But the problem with House — and many other candidates — is House ran a 4-3 defense at Pitt. Part of the appeal when hiring Wilcox last year was he ran a base 3-4 defense, the same system Aranda preferred and what the Badgers’ players were already accustomed to. Chryst will more than likely try to keep that consistent.
This next hire for UW could be an unexpected one like Wilcox was at the time. Wilcox did not have any connections to Chryst or the staff, and his name wasn’t even mentioned as a candidate in the media until a couple weeks into the search.
Aranda was announced as LSU’s defensive coordinator on Jan. 1 of last year, and Wilcox wasn’t hired at UW until nearly four weeks later.