Justin Wilcox On Jonathan Smith, Coaching Influences, And Facing No. 15 Oregon State In Berkeley


Justin Wilcox is in year seven as head coach at California.

The Bears are 3-2 so far this season, 1-1 in Pac-12 play, and on Saturday night they host the No. 15 Oregon State Beavers (7:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

Wilcox joined John Canzano for a conversation before the big game and reflected on what it was like facing Smith when both coaches were players at Oregon and Oregon State; Wilcox a DB for Nick Aliotti’s Ducks, and Smith the Beavers four-year starting quarterback.

“Playing against Jonathan, we played against each other for a couple years,” Wilcox said on 750 The Game. “Once up there, and I think it was double, or triple overtime? Something like that. And my senior year we played him at home,  and split with him, I think. He’s a really good coach. I’ve known him a long time. Ton of respect for him and the entire staff there. You know what you’re going to get when you play those guys, and it will be a battle.”

Wilcox remembered rightly, as Ken Simonton scored a game-winning 16-yard rushing touchdown to beat the Ducks 44-41 in double overtime in the ’98 edition of the rivalry, a pivotal moment in Oregon State history. Wilcox and the Ducks returned the favor over Smith’s Beavs with a 25-14 win in Eugene.

Canzano asked Wilcox what got him into coaching, and the Cal head man said it wasn’t until he was nearly done with playing college football at Oregon that he considered it thanks to some positive influences.

“Maybe late in my career, my last year, is when I thought about it,” Wilcox said. “Probably because of the people I had been around. Bob Gregory (DBs coach) being one. Bob Foster (Defensive Coordinator). Coach Aliotti (DC after Foster). Coach Pete (Chris Petersen) was on the staff there (WRs coach). And those guys, when I saw how they coached, and how they worked with the players and the energy they brought, I thought, ‘Oh, that looks enjoyable’.”

Cal comes into the matchup with the Beavers with a strong reputation on defense, but Wilcox told Canzano there is always room for improvement on that side of the ball.

“We’ve been real hit and miss, Jekyll and Hyde on defense throughout the year,” he said. “Obviously the game at Washington (UW won 59-32) we played terrible everywhere, got our ass kicked. But we bounced back and had some good moments last week on defense and then we had three plays that gave up 120 yards and 10 points, and if we hadn’t done that, shoot, we’re gonna play really pretty good. Same thing in the Auburn game, we played pretty good but had a couple plays that really hurt us. So we just need to do routine things, and not make easy things hard, and if we do that, then I think we’ll have a shot to play pretty good.”

As far as the keys to a strong offensive performance are concerned, Wilcox pointed to big plays and efficiency.

“We got to create some more explosives. We got to be improved in the pass game more consistently. The run game has been pretty good. We’re going to have a different kind of test against the Beavs, we know that. They’re an excellent run defense, they’re really physical. We’re going to have to make it count when we throw the ball. So we’ll find out where we are. We got to be balanced and we got to be efficient, like everybody says, but it’s true. So if we can do that, and protect it, then we’ll have a chance to play good. And we’re going to have to play good to beat the Beavs. It’s going to be a heck of a game.”

Wilcox watched what Oregon State did up front against a very physical Utah team last week, a 21-7 Beavers victory.

“They’re big and physical up front,” Wilcox said of the Beavers. “I think their O-Line is so dang good. They’re veteran, they know how to play. They’re good players. Then obviously the way their offense operates. Running the ball with two great backs. You got DJ (Uiagalelei) doing his thing. They got speed. So they do a really great job with that.

“And then defensively, really aggressive. They’re big up front, their front seven is very active. They get negative plays. And they will contest everything in the back end. They’re going to get up and challenge your receivers, and then you got to win going to have to win some one-on-ones. So it will be a great test for all of our guys, both sides of the ball. It will be a battle.”

Some talk has swirled this week around Jonathan Smith’s decision to not simulate any energy at practice with crowd noise or music or fight songs, knowing the atmosphere in Berkeley may require the Beavers to bring their own energy rather than feed off the energy of a packed stadium. Did Wilcox use that as motivation with his players this week?

“We don’t really get too involved with all that stuff,” the Cal head coach said. “What we need to take personally is our play. So going out and playing really great football, that’s what we’re concerned with.

“If it helps somebody get ready and gives them added motivation, more power to them. I just always felt like intrinsic motivation, that’s probably more important to long-term success than always looking for something extrinsic. Because at some point there might not be any more bulletin board material, or somebody might not say something to challenge you. So it’s got to come from inside. You have to want to be good because you want it, because it’s important to you, and not because somebody said you can’t do something. So if helps them, great, but I don’t know that it’s sustainable to be successful at anything if you’re always counting on some extrinsic motivator.”

The Beavers and Golden Bears tee it up at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night on the Pac-12 Network.

Catch the full interview with Cal coach Justin Wilcox below.

John Canzano delivers the Bald Faced Truth afternoons 3-6 p.m. exclusively in Portland on 750 The Game.