When asked about the most eye-opening part about his transition from defensive coordinator to head coach, Cal’s Justin Wilcox noted he has discussed far more than blitzes and coverages during his first four months on the job.
“The first thing that’s noticeable is the number of conversations just grows exponentially,” Wilcox said Wednesday.
Wilcox has been tackling issues ranging from dormitories for his players to start times for his practices. However, the topic over which many Cal fans have grumbled in recent years — the wretchedness of the Golden Bears’ defense — hasn’t occupied much of his time.
Wilcox explained that he and his staff are looking ahead, not obsessing over video of Cal’s past deficiencies.
Consider: Last year, Wilcox oversaw a Wisconsin defense that ranked seventh in the nation and allowed 24 touchdowns. Cal ranked 125th (out of 128 teams) and allowed 64 touchdowns.
“We didn’t spend a ton of time on the past, really,” Wilcox said. “… We don’t really talk about those things. We’re a lot more concerned with where we are right now to improve ourselves. I know that sounds like a canned answer, but that’s the truth. We are optimistic. We think we’ve got some good players in that group.”
Cal hopes it has a head coach who can overhaul a defense that has allowed at least 30 points in 41 of 49 games over the past four seasons. Wilcox, 40, landed the job in large part because of his defensive chops, but he noted it will be a collaborative effort. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, 54, was the head coach at Fresno State the past four seasons, and has spent 15 of his 27 seasons in Division I as a defensive coordinator.
“In terms of calling the plays and all that, coach DeRuyter is the defensive coordinator,” Wilcox said. “I’ll have input. But I trust all the guys that we hired to do their job and that’s why they’re here.”
Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, the head coach at Eastern Washington the previous nine seasons, will have a major role in handling another huge challenge: identifying the right quarterback to follow in the footsteps of Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in 2016, and Davis Webb, a third-round pick in April.
Cal’s depth chart has junior Chase Forrest and sophomore Ross Bowers sharing the No. 1 spot. Wilcox expects a winner to emerge during the 27 practices leading to the season opener at North Carolina on Sept. 2. Only Forrest, who had 18 attempts in 2015, has thrown a pass in a Cal game.
“At some point, we will make a decision, but right now, it’s just too close,” Wilcox said. “Chase and Ross both had their moments and we’re excited about the progress, especially the last four to five days” (of spring practice).
A wild-card candidate to enter the competition is sophomore Brandon McIlwain, a transfer from South Carolina who will play baseball and football at Cal. Transfers generally have to sit out a year when moving to another Division I school, but Wilcox indicated it’s yet to be determined whether McIlwain could play in 2017.
McIlwain played in eight games, with three starts, last year as a freshman at South Carolina. A four-star recruit from Newton, Penn., completed 62 of 118 passes for 600 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Eric Branch is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @Eric_Branch