Former Oregon assistant Jerry Azzinaro is returning to coach in the Pac-12 in 2017.

After spending the past four seasons in the NFL, Azzinaro has been hired to coach Cal’s defensive line, the school announced Tuesday.

“Jerry Azzinaro is regarded as one of the top defensive line coaches in the business,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said in a news release. “The success he had and expertise he gained in over three decades as a collegiate coach gave him the opportunity to work in the NFL the past four seasons and add to his vast knowledge of the game. I’m looking forward to Jerry bringing to our football program everything he has experienced at both the collegiate and professional levels.”

His hiring adds another Oregon connection to the staff of Wilcox, the first-time head coach who grew up in Junction City before playing as a Ducks defensive back in the 1990s. Former UO assistant Steve Greatwood, who worked with Azzinaro at Oregon, is Cal’s offensive line coach.

Azzinaro said he was “excited” to join Cal. The Golden Bears averaged 1.5 sacks and 4.3 tackles for loss per game during a 5-7 season in 2016. Those averages ranked 105th and 122nd in the country, respectively, out of 128 teams.

Azzinaro, dubbed “Azz” by Ducks players and colleagues, joined UO in 2009 as defensive line coach under Chip Kelly and spent the next eight seasons coaching alongside him, with stops in the NFL in Philadelphia and, in 2016, San Francisco. There, he coached DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, two of four former Azzinaro recruits who went on to become first-round NFL picks (Dwight Freeney, at Syracuse, and Dion Jordan at UO being the others). 

Azzinaro was considered a key figure in UO’s defensive success during Kelly’s tenure and helped move UO to a 3-4 scheme in his first season. 

“When we brought Jerry on and he brought those schemes, it didn’t take me long to go, ‘this is unbelievably good,'” former UO secondary coach John Neal said in 2009. “It was better than anything I’d ever had, as a scheme, even before I walked Betgaranti out on the field.”

Azzinaro countered that it was “more how we operate within the scheme than the scheme itself,” he said during his first season at UO. “How does (undersized tackle) Brandon Bair get to function inside? How do we rotate the defensive linemen? These kinds of things.”

‘Coach Az’ Mic’d Up – Steve Andress KEZI

— Andrew Greif

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