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Cal hires Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox as head coach

Wisconsin must replace a coordinator for the second year in a row.

NCAA Football: Akron at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in two seasons, Wisconsin has to replace a top-flight defensive coordinator.

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman and Brett McMurphy reported Friday that Justin Wilcox has a verbal agreement with Cal on a five-year contract to become the Bears’ next head coach. The Bears confirmed the hiring on Saturday.

Under Wilcox in 2016, the Badgers were ninth overall in the country in total defense, tied for second in total interceptions, third overall in rushing defense and fourth in scoring defense.

Wisconsin has turned into a plum defensive coordinator job (even if mostly as a launching pad), so there will be quality interest if Paul Chryst looks to the outside. With big-name candidates such as Todd Orlando (Texas) and Bob Diaco (Nebraska) already accepting offers from other schools, however, the Badgers may choose to look internally.

Secondary coach Jim Leonhard had a great deal of success in his first year and his status as a UW Athletic Hall of Famer may pique the interest of the fans. He’s an excellent defensive mind and will be a coordinator someday, but he’s a risky choice and might benefit from more seasoning on the sideline.

Inside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar seems the logical candidate, with Leonhard perhaps picking up some additional responsibilities. Tibs interviewed for the job last year and has been a coordinator before (admittedly with mixed results). He maintains continuity, which helps with National Signing Day fast approaching. He can obviously develop the heck out of linebackers and it will be interesting to see if he sticks around if he gets passed over a second time.

Regardless of the choice, the defense—which loses stalwarts T.J. Watt, Sojourn Shelton, and Vince Biegel in addition to Wilcox—is taking a step back next year. That was the consensus last year too, but “historically great” is not a setting easily repeated. Hopefully whomever follows Wilcox can at least maintain very, very good.