SEATTLE (AP) — Justin Wilcox is leaving Tennessee for chance to be the answer to Washington's defensive woes.
Washington confirmed late Monday afternoon the hiring of Wilcox as the Huskies new defensive coordinator replacing Nick Holt, who was fired after Washington surrendered 777 yards and 67 points in an Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor.
Wilcox isn't coming alone. Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon is leaving Tennessee as well to take the same job with the Huskies. Both Wilcox and Sirmon have significant Northwest ties — each played at Oregon and Wilcox's big break came as defensive coordinator for Boise State.
Along with Holt, Washington also dismissed linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills. The moves came after Washington had the worst statistical defense in school history.
Wilcox and Sirmon are the latest in a string of departures from Tennessee, which is still struggling to rebuild after back-to-back coaching turnovers following the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett and tight ends and special teams coach Eric Russell also have left the staff of Volunteers coach Derek Dooley.
Wilcox's defense was one of the bright spots in a disappointing 5-7 season for Tennessee. The Vols allowed 340.5 yards and 22.6 points per game, ranking them among the top 35 teams in the nation in both categories.
Wilcox, 35, was set to earn $700,000 at Tennessee in 2012. He and Sirmon were teammates and roommates Oregon, though Wilcox first made a name for himself in four seasons as defensive coordinator at Boise State, where his players lead the Western Athletic Conference in total defense and scoring defense from 2006-2009 and compiled a 49-4 overall record.
Sirmon, 34, a veteran NFL linebacker, spent the 2010 season as a graduate assistant for the Vols and was promoted to linebackers coach for 2011. He was set to earn $175,000 in 2012.
The pair will be stepping in to lead a defense with ongoing troubles. The Huskies gave up 65 points, 446 yards rushing and 615 total yards to Stanford this season, then another 40 points and 426 yards to Southern California. Even when the Huskies held Oregon to under 400 total yards, it came in a 34-17 defeat.
Only four times in 13 games this season did Washington hold an opponent under 400 total yards, and just 11 times in Holt's 38 games in charge of the Huskies defense. Washington's 2011 defense set school records for most points allowed, total touchdowns, yards passing allowed and total yards allowed.
Holt's firing came almost three years to the day after he was introduced as the defensive answer to Washington's woes. He was wooed from Southern California by a contract that trumped that of some other head coaches in the conference and the autonomy to run the defense as he wanted.