Cal’s Cool Collaboration
Ask Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon about what it's like to coach his son Jackson and he quickly turns it into a conversation about all of his players.
"I get a lot of father/son questions but when Jack is out here, he's No. 8 and he's playing inside linebacker," Peter said. "My role is to coach the inside linebackers and coordinate the defense. There's plenty of time to be a father. I care about all these guys that I coach. I pour into their lives. I pour into their development. I know the parents. Not to minimize Jack and I being father and son, but I also don't want to make more of it than what it is when he's on the field playing ball."
Cal's Travers Family Head Football Coach Justin Wilcox offers a similar low-key approach to having a father/son duo as a key component of the team's defense.
"It's a bigger story to the media, fans and people on the outside than it is inside the program," Wilcox said. "Inside of here it's really a non-story."
Wilcox showed more excitement when talking about Jackson's football skills.
"Jack's a heck of a football player," Wilcox said. "He embodies the toughness, intelligence and love of football that we're looking for. Regardless of what his last name is, he's a valued and important member of the team. It just so happens that his dad is the defensive coordinator."
Although he is enjoying spending more time with his dad, Jackson's approach has been similar - saying "things just kind of aligned this time."
The Sirmons have easily navigated being on the same football field together on a consistent basis for the first time since Peter served as an assistant coach for Jackson's youth flag football team in Nashville, shortly after the elder Sirmon's seven-year NFL playing career came to an end with the Titans in 2006. Looking back at the multiple moves of the Sirmon family over the past 15 years, it's easy to understand why the latest adjustment has been easy.
Peter began his coaching career in 2008 at Division II Central Washington in his hometown of Walla Walla, Wash, but with his quick ascent up the coaching ranks he wouldn't stay there long. In 2009, he returned to his alma mater, Oregon, as a graduate assistant. By the time Wilcox hired his former Oregon college teammate at Cal in 2018 to coach the inside linebackers and coordinate the Bears' recruiting efforts, it would be Peter's seventh move in less than a decade.
Jackson got used to all the moving.
"One time we were moving for the third time in four or five years and my friends were all super sad and bummed, and I was kind of like 'uh, bye'," Jackson said. "I had moved so many times I was kind of immune. I wasn't really that bummed."
When Wilcox hired Peter in January of 2018, it was just a few weeks after Jackson had committed to Washington.
Did Jackson think about trying to join his dad in Berkeley at the time?
"Once I signed my NLI at Washington I felt like I had an obligation," Jackson responded. "It was my word. I went to school there, played and had a good time, but I'm happy to be here now. It made a lot of sense to come here. A lot of things lined up well, and I think it made the choice really easy for me."
Jackson knew what he was getting into at Cal.
"My dad is a really good coach," Jackson said. "He does a great job of giving you the details and explaining exactly what you need to do. Since he played the position so long I think he understands what linebackers see out there on the field, and what you can and can't do, and he does a good job identifying that and coaching off that. Plus, Cal is a great school, the Bay Area is really cool and Berkeley is unique. I knew the guys in the locker room were really good guys with high character. They care about football, they play hard, they play physical and that was something I was really excited to be a part of."
Was Peter as excited as Jackson? Yes, but he still called a few of his friends in the coaching profession to make sure he knew what he was getting in his own son.
"You always think you know your kids but as a parent you also know there's a life they have when you're not around," Peter said with a smile. "So I asked the coaches at Washington some questions. Basically, I wanted to know if Jack was working hard and putting forth effort."
Sirmon's smile quickly turned into a wide grin as he described the answers he received.
"(Former Washington head coach) Chris Petersen came up to me during Jack's freshman year at Washington and was very complimentary about how he was doing, and that was great to hear," Peter recalled, before adding that other Huskies' coaches also sang the praises of his son.
By the time Jackson grad transferred to Cal this past January, his dad was sure of what he would add to the Bears.
"Jackson has four years of experience in the Pac-12, and with that experience he understands what's expected of him," Peter said. "He understands the behavior in the locker room, the meeting room and the building. He is also a smart and tough player who is hopefully influencing and providing leadership."