Who could Justin Wilcox look to hire as the next Cal offensive coordinator?
Here are several of the most prominent candidates.
We will have a much bigger board in the offseason. But let’s get the discussion going to start 2022.
In 2020, Justin Wilcox didn’t have a ton of pickings when he selected Bill Musgrave as the new offensive coordinator. Most of the coaches he had worked with in the past were onto new, shiny opportunities, or firmly entrenched in existing roles.
This is not the case in 2022. Wilcox will have a host of candidates he can choose from that he has prior experience working with.
Paul Chryst: We’ve talked about this one before after the firing of Chryst from Wisconsin—with Paul’s brother Geep Chryst still retained on staff, it makes a lot of sense for Wilcox to call his last boss and see if he’d be interested in taking command of a beleaguered Cal offense.
Although Chryst did not end his time well at Wisconsin, it’s hard to argue with the overall effectiveness of his management of the Badgers—67-26, three Big 6 Bowl games. When he was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin under Bret Bielema, the Badgers went to two Rose Bowls. His results as Oregon State offensive coordinator in the mid-2000s was also elite.
The big question looming over his potential candidacy: What can Chryst do without an elite offensive line? Things were not pretty this season when the Badgers stalwart front collapsed. Chryst has also not done much work outside Wisconsin in the last two decades. It might be a culture shock to return out west.
Troy Taylor: This has been the obvious candidate for some time for many fans to bring the Cal quarterback legend home. Taylor is 10-0 at Sacramento State, currently stands #2 in the FCS, and is wrapping up his third straight top-ten campaign. It is the best prolonged stretch in Hornet football history. Taylor’s Sacramento State’s offenses rank among the best in FCS football.
The lack of FBS experience is a bit worrisome, but Taylor’s one foray with the Utah Utes saw modest success, with the Utes getting to the Pac-12 title game in his final year. Taylor was also the offensive coordinator for Beau Baldwin at Eastern Washington, and oversaw the schemes that unleashed Cooper Kupp.
The big question here: Is Taylor interested in being a FBS offensive coordinator again, or is head coaching his preference? It’d be hard to see an FBS program taking a chance on an FCS coach straight up since the coaching and recruiting demands are very different, but Taylor did give up a lot of money to return back to Sacramento. That being said, Taylor in his 50s, and any FBS coordinator position dwarves FCS head coaching job in salary, and he is still very fond of Berkeley, so you’d have to think he’d consider it.
Scott Frost: Although Frost didn't coach directly with Justin Wilcox, he has coached with Cal offensive consultant Steve Greatwood and defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon at Oregon. So there are definite connections here.
Despite the flame-out at Nebraska, Frost’s offensive bona fides are beyond solid from his stints as Oregon offensive coordinator with Marcus Mariota and with UCF on their ‘national title’ run.
It would be a big change-up to switch from Musgrave to Frost’s offense, but it would signal that Wilcox is all-in on at least trying something completely new as his tenure grows hotter. Still, there would be likely a year of transition for Cal players to adjust to their third very different offense in five years.
Eric Kiesau: Of all the available coaches, the recently released Auburn offensive coordinator has had the most overlap with Wilcox. Kiesau was the wide receivers coach when Wilcox was the linebackers coach at Cal during the first Jeff Tedford stint. Then they reunited in Washington with Kiesau taking over offensive coordinator duties when Wilcox was the defensive coordinator.
The knock on Kiesau as an offensive coordinator is he has never really handled the bulk of the gameplan development—Steve Sarkisian was calling plays in Washington and Bryan Harsin handled most of the planning and work at Boise State and Auburn.
But he’d be a familiar face, he does know how to gameplan competently, and would probably work well in concert with Wilcox and Peter Sirmon in practices to get the offense to a more manageable place.
Jim Michalczik: Michalczik was also with Kiesau and Wilcox on the early Tedford teams, and as we can see his offensive lines are still a wrecking ball up at Oregon State.
The one thing Michalczik would provide is a much improved Cal offensive line. The Bears generally had good lines whenever Michalczik was in charge.
The concern is Michalczik would need to call plays, and his experience is lacking. His one experience as OC came with Jeff Tedford in the final Cal years, and there were a lot of chefs in the kitchen (Tedford, Kiesau, Michalczik, UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo all were in there making stews). So how he’d call a game would be a complete mystery.
That being said, Cal needs basic fixes, starting upfront. Giving Michalczik the helm might not be the worst idea, particularly when the focus of the offense in 2023 should be on getting Jaydn Ott the football.
Derek Dooley: Another former boss of Wilcox, this time from Tennessee. Dooley is currently situated in Alabama as an offensive analyst in the Nick Saban coaching rehabilitation center.
Dooley doesn’t have a ton of west coast or offensive coaching experience—he’s spent most of his career in the South, or in the NFL. But in his one two-year stint with Missouri in 2018-19, the Tigers offense showed promise and had their best showing since Gary Pinkel in 2018. Like Kiesau, it’d be a familiarity hire. It probably isn’t the first preference though.
Not Bryan Harsin: The former Auburn head coach would seem like a more obvious candidate than Kiesau, given he was the offensive coordinator at Boise State at the same time Wilcox was the defensive coordinator. But Harsin’s stance on COVID vaccines makes him a non-starter. It’s a general policy at the University of California that all UC employees must be vaccinated to work onsite, or must mask up.
That being said, Wilcox has gone outside his network the last two times to hire his offensive coordinators. So this is by far only a first list of candidates to consider. We’ll have a more comprehensive list in the coming weeks!