Dykes Ready and Eager For the Challenge at Cal

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By Jim McGill, Staff Writer
Posted Dec 6, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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With athletic director Sandy Barbour's enthusiastic endorsement and introduction, new Cal head football coach Sonny Dykes was introduced to the Bay Area media this afternoon in the Field Club at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.

Without pinning down exactly how many people she and the committee interviewed for the job, Barbour made it clear that the impression Dykes made very early in the interview process stuck with her, almost becoming the bar that subsequent interview candidates had to measure up to.

"I met with Sonny early on in the process," said Barbour. "I will tell you - and I haven't told him yet - when he walked out of the room, I said to myself, 'I think that's the guy.'

"We were fortunate to have great interest in this position and I felt like in doing my duty to the university I needed to do a full vetting of what was available.

"We did meet with a relatively large number of folks. But I kept coming back to Sonny."

Dykes was clearly pleased to take on the challenge of assuming Tedford's mantel at Cal, making it clear that he looked up the job as a prime opportunity for him to step in and be successful.

"I just want to start by saying, first of all, I can't really begin to say how special it is to be standing here today as the head coach at Cal," said Dykes.

" I'm truly blown away. I've been in this profession a long time. I've seen a lot of these jobs that have come open, things have happened. There were a lot of great jobs open this year, and this is the one that I was interested in from day one because of the great traditions at Cal, the great challenges that Cal has, but the great resources that Cal has as well.

"To interview for this job and to ultimately be here standing in front of you today is an incredible privilege. Things just don't work out that way very often and I feel truly blessed to be here because this is a very special institution and I'm very blessed to be a part of it.

"When this all happened, I was focused on California from day one. Here is why. Cal I think has a commitment to excellence, a mentality to win every single day in every single way, a dedication to excellence in everything that Cal touches. That's how you graduate players, shape young men and win football games. I think the dedication manifests itself in athletics, 84 national championships in 15 different sports, academics, the number one public institution in the country. The faculty, their accomplishments are quite remarkable. The facilities, as you can see around here, blow you away.

"Memorial Stadium is now one of the best facilities to play college football in in the entire country. I'm excited about having such great resources to recruit to.

"This is a proud program with a rich tradition. We will set lofty goals for our program, but our primary focus will be on improving every day in all phases as we ensure to build a total program."

Dykes comes from a football family, the son of longtime coach Spike Dikes, Texas Tech's head coach from 1987-1999.

"I was fortunate to grow up in a football family," said Dykes. "My father was a football coach for a long time, 20 years as a high school coach and 20 years as a college coach. I wouldn't be the man I am today if it wasn't for†his influence on me and my mother's influence on me. I want to thank my dad for everything he's taught me. I was so fortunate to grow up with the two wonderful parents that I did. I think they've had the biggest influence on my life."

As much as Dykes relishes all the positives in his new position and all that he has to work with at Cal, he's pragmatic enough to realize that he'll have his challenges ahead of him, too, inheriting a program that finished dead last in the academic progress rate (apr) as well as with their worst record at 3-9 since their 1-10 finish in 2001.

"Our football team has some challenges that lay in front of us," said Dykes. "Academically we have to improve, we know that. I believe there's a direct correlation between having academic and athletic success. Those goals and expectations will be laid out from the very beginning and were laid out today in our meeting.

"It's our purpose to get the academic part of this program fixed. We will turn it around and return this team to the highest levels of expectation on the field and in the classroom. With the Simpson Center, the afforded opportunity to our students, success is there for the taking. We will ensure they see it and achieve it. This is what Cal demands and what I will demand on a daily basis from our student-athletes.

"It's no secret that signing day is right around the corner. We've already hit the ground running. We have to roll our sleeves up and go to work. We'll be very aggressive in retaining and continuing to find student-athletes that fit Cal. I'm a big believer in fit. I think that's what leads to success. Certain people fit certain places, and our duty is to go out there and find the best student-athletes that fit the culture of Cal that can succeed both in the classroom and on the football field.

"We will work with some great coaches on staff and with several coaches I will bring in immediately to close this year's recruiting class. We'll address all the staff issues really in the next 10 to 14 days and hopefully have a complete staff as we break for Christmas.

"As far as the existing staff, I will meet with every one of them and they will be given an opportunity to interview and be a part of this staff as well. Those decisions we will make over the course of the next 10 to 14 days."

With there being limited time left to recruit this season, especially with a non-contact period coming up later this month to coincide with the holiday, it's also important to move faster where possible and Dykes hopes to get a jump on the hiring process with at least a few early positions being filled.

"We could have as many as three or four possibly by Monday," said Dykes. "We'll have to see. There's logistics involved in that. It always happens a little slower than you want it to. It's imperative that we get guys hired and get them out there as quickly as we can.

"We have to go build relationships. It all starts locally for us. We have to get out into the high schools locally, in the Bay Area, in the surrounding areas, then we've obviously got to get the state of California covered.

"Every successful football program in the country focuses on recruiting their area and their state. That's going to be something that's paramount to our success here. We're going to need to improve our recruiting and improve our relationships with high school coaches and be visible.

Dykes didn't announce the hiring of any new staff but plans to move as quickly as possible bring his team together. According to Dykes, no decisions have been made about retaining any of the holdover coaches versus bringing in a completely new staff.

"The first thing we'll do is meet with those guys individually. I have some ideas what I want to do with my staffing. Nothing is set in stone at this point. But I'm going to meet with them. There's obviously great coaches here at Cal. I've coached against them. I have great respect for them. I've gotten to know some of these guys through the years. They're really outstanding football coaches and outstanding people.

"So I think I would be remiss if I didn't meet with them and see what their vision for Cal is and what their vision for the future is, see how it fits. As I said earlier, I'm a big believer in how things fit together.

"The most important thing I'll do is hire a staff. I really believe that. These guys are around our young men day in and day out. They're the ones that get to know them at the personal level, they're the ones that are coaching and guiding them, mentoring them. You have to have strength not only in X's and O's but the other areas we talked about. It's all about fit, personality. I think putting a staff together is about young people, old people, optimistic people, pessimistic people. I think you want to have a little bit of all those bases covered, old grouchy guys and young optimistic guys have an opportunity to work together.

Coming from Louisiana, the natural question that arises is if Dykes and his staff has experience recruiting California and if they'll be able to step in and effectively cover the area.

"You'd actually be surprised," said Dykes. "Some of the guys I plan on hiring have many, many years of experience recruiting in California. The great thing about this state here is that everybody at some time or another, if you're in the coaching profession, has recruited California. Most of these guys have done it extensively and over time. There's existing relationships.

"As I said earlier, recruiting is about relationships and establishing trust. When they get to know our coaches, the kind of people they are, I think it's going to allow us to make inroads in recruiting."

Coming in with two months left in a long recruiting season, the onus to pick things up quickly falls squarely on Dykes' shoulders, but the Bears' new coach is confident in living up to the challenge..

"This is not a bad time to come in," said Dykes. "Anytime you have a coaching search, you get a bit of a late start. To Cal's credit, this happened very quickly. It's given us time to get in here and get some work done in the recruiting front this week and all of next week we'll have an opportunity to get out and see both current commits and prospective student-athletes. I think it was done in a very timely manner.

"When you do make a change, you are behind a little bit. So we're going to be reaching out to our current commits. That's our number one goal, to retain those commitments, continue to build the relationships with the players. We need to get to know them and they need to get to know us.

"Like anything, we'll evaluate the fit. That's kind of what we're going through. But I think Cal sells itself. I think when we assemble our coaching staff, our coaching staff will sell itself. I think we'll have an opportunity to sign one of the better recruiting classes they've had around here."

As for the type of offense fans can expect under Dykes, it often varies based on the personnel and strengths of the roster each year. The perception that a Dykes-coached team is strictly a spread option, pass-first, run-last offense is incorrect based on Dykes' experience as a head coach so far, particularly last year, as the Bulldogs finished 3rd in the nation in passing but also 18th in rushing for a cumulative top-ranked offense in the country, with a traditional pocket passer behind center, as well in WAC Player of the Year Colby Cameron.

"Honestly, if we have a quarterback that can run, we're going to run him. All those possibilities exist within the offense.

I think in a perfect world, we would have a quarterback that's mobile and could carry the ball 8 to 10 times a game," said Dykes "We haven't had that at Louisiana Tech. Our guys have been more pocket guys. That's kind of the style of play we've adjusted to.

"But we're a different team. We're not a true spread option team. It's not going to be Oregon spread, it's not going to be Texas Tech spread. We run the football a lot. I think we ended up in the top 15 in the country in rushing and in the top 10 in passing. It's a diverse offense that can throw the ball, run the ball, creates matchups. We're real big into running the ball and throwing the ball into good numbers, identifying those things and doing that by personnel and by formations.

"A lot of our offense has different calls in it, double calls, pass versus this, run versus this. It's really a simple offense that is really highly predicated upon doing things that the defense has given you."

Probably the biggest concern of most Cal fans with†Dykes' hiring†is the†potential of the possibility of an all-offense, no defense coach coming to town to lead the Bears.

"We did have a bit of an anomaly this year," said Dykes. "We were number one in the country in offense and last in defense, which is something that's a little bit unusual. Obviously it's something we know we need to get addressed.

"The thing that I think I can refer to is our season year before last, we led the Western Athletic Conference in total defense, number one defense in the conference that year. What we try to do as coaches, I believe your number one job as a coach is to figure out what you have, what's the personality of your football team, what are your strengths. That particular year we were starting a true freshman quarterback, had a lot of good young defensive players.

"Our focus that year was let's play great defense, protect the football on offense, let's make sure we punt well. We didn't turn the ball over and we won a conference championship. We graduated a lot of those players. We had a lot of offensive players return the following year and knew we were going to have to have a dominant offense because we were going to be young defensively. We figured out a way to win. What we had to do was outscore people that year. Certainly not something we want to make a living doing. We want to play great defenses day in and day out. If you can be a great defensive football team, that's going to give you an opportunity to win every ballgame.

"My number one job is going to be to go out and hire the best defensive coordinator I can find in the United States. I have four or five names right now that I plan to interview. Go get the best one, bring him here and combine great defense with great offense and great special teams and try to go win a championship."

Dykes, 43, brings 18 years of collegiate coaching experience to Berkeley, including three seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona from 2007-09. He spent the past three years as head coach at Louisiana Tech, where he compiled a 22-15 record and won 16 of 17 regular season games during one stretch over the 2011 and '12 seasons.

This past year, Dykes guided Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 mark, which included road victories over FBS opponents Illinois (52-24), Houston (56-49) and Virginia (44-28). The Bulldogs also lost a narrow 59-57 decision to a Texas A&M team that later defeated top-ranked Alabama and earned a spot in the Cotton Bowl. Louisiana Tech reached as high as No. 19 in the Associated Press poll and No. 18 in the USA Today poll after jumping out to a 9-1 start.

During his years at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La., Dykes engineered a turnaround for the program that improved all three seasons under his leadership. The Bulldogs were 4-8 the year before he arrived in 2009, then proceeded to finish 5-7, 8-5 and 9-3 in successive campaigns. In 2011, Louisiana Tech started just 1-4, and then won seven consecutive games to clinch the Western Athletic Conference title - the team's first conference championship in a decade - and a berth in the Poinsettia Bowl. Dykes was named the WAC Coach of the Year for the effort.

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