Sonny Entering a Grown-Up World

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By David Bush, Staff Writer
Posted Dec 7, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Cal Coach Ray Willsey - 1969

Even Pappy couldn't do it. Can Sonny?

Win a Rose Bowl, that is: something that has eluded every Cal coach in the last 75 years, including the legendary Lynn (Pappy) Waldorf. Waldorf did, however, make it to the Pasadena classic three times during his ten year reign, something his 12 successors accomplished just once.

Now it's Sonny's turn. Daniel (Sonny) Dykes, no biological offspring of Pappy, is the new man at the football helm in Berkeley. At his introductory press conference this week, Dykes talked about the importance of the Rose Bowl as if he understood it. “That's obviously everybody's goal in this program, is to reach the Rose Bowl. It means you won a conference championship. That's why you coach and play, to be part of championship football teams,” Dykes said. "There's nothing like it. It's going to take a lot of work.”

After several seconds of familiar phrases such as “hard work” and “improving every day”, he finished with the resounding vow, “ Every day we get in our car and come to work, our goal is going to be to get to the Rose Bowl, and not only get there but to win it.”

Noble ambitions all, but those have frustrated a lot of good men in the 75 years since Cal beat Alabama, 13-0, on New Years Day, 1938. Waldorf came the closest in 1948, 1949 and 1950, losing close games in Pasadena all three times. Only one of his dozen successors even made it that far: Pete Elliott led Cal to the 1959 Rose Bowl, where the Bears were thrashed by Iowa.

There have been some high moments in the interim: Ray Willsey's Bear Minimum defense in 1968 got as high as eighth in the country; Mike White's 1975 team started slowly but were Pac-8 co-champs, and by the end of the year were probably as good as anybody anywhere; in 1991 Bruce Snyder's team went 10-2 and finished eighth in the country; Jeff Tedford's 2004 team with Aaron Rodgers should have made it to the Rose Bowl but for Texas coach Mack Brown's unseemly politicking of BCS voters - and three years later the Bears were a freshman mistake away from being ranked No. 1 nationally .

As far as high notes in three quarters of a century, that is pretty much that. So when Dykes talks about the “great California tradition,” one wonders if he has really done all his homework. He admits that the job presents, “a challenge” but he will soon find out he's not in Ruston, Louisiana anymore. The job just seems to beat the coach down.

In an introductory gathering prior to Tedford's first year at Cal, I tried to offer him what I thought was an appropriate show of support. “I have been around Cal a long time,” I told him “I know how tough your job is. Marv Levy won eight games in four years, then went to four Super Bowls in the pros. Coaching at Cal isn't easy.”

Rather than receiving an expected thanks, I was rebuked. “Why is everybody here so negative?” he said sharply. “We can make this just like Oregon.”

Tedford had considerable success at first, seeming to prove my initial observations as wrong. But finally the job caught up with him, as it seemingly does to everyone. Since Pappy resigned under pressure, only three Cal coaches left the job on their own volition: Elliott high-tailed it for Illinois going 2-8 in ‘59; Snyder had a falling out with the AD and Steve Mariucci ducked out the door after one year to become head coach of the 49ers. All the others were cashiered.

Dykes seems to have the requisite enthusiasm and football intelligence to succeed most places. Maybe he can make it work at Berkeley. I hope so.

His offensive scheme, known as “Air Raid” led the nation in scoring this past season. It is an up tempo, spread attack and the Bears got a sample of something like it in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when Dykes was an assistant at Texas Tech and the Red Raiders routed the Bears.

“We're not a true spread option team,” Dykes said. “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; it creates match-ups.”

In what has become something of an accidental tradition, Dykes inherits a quarterback. Every Cal coach but one since Waldorf has walked in with a QB on the shelf. Waldorf left Joe Kapp for Elliott, who left Randy Gold for Levy, who left Craig Morton for Willsey, who left Steve Bartkowski for White, who left Rich Cambpell for Roger Theder, who left Gale Gilbert for Kapp, who left Troy Taylor for Snyder, who left Dave Barr for Keith Gilbertson, who left Pat Barnes for Mariucci. The string ended there, as luckless Tom Holmoe had to bring in Justin Vedder, but ultimately Kyle Boller was there for Tedford.

Now it is Allan Bridgford who awaits the new coach. Known as a quarterback who prefers to stay in the pocket, Bridgford, who started the last two games of 2011 after Zach Maynard was injured, says he can manage Dykes' offense.

“I think it will be a real nice fit for us,” Bridgford said. “Coming out of high school I was recruited real hard by Texas Tech, and that was one of the schools I considered. This offense is about accuracy, decision making, and that was one of my strong suits.”

He also said that would have no problem throwing on the run, and on the other hand Dykes said a pocket passer could thrive in his offense.

“I think in a perfect world, we would have a running (quarter) back that's mobile and could carry the ball 8 to 10 times a game, if it was a perfect world,” Dykes said. “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.”

Besides Bridgford, Dykes will have holdover Austin Hinder, redshirt freshman Zach Kline and presumably incoming recruit Jared Goff. He should be able to find somebody capable from that group.

It is on defense that the Bears need help, and Dykes' team was last in among all FBS teams in defense in 2011, giving up 526.1 yards per game. He explained that away at the press conference, saying his team was first in the WAC in defense in 2011, then graduated most of the players and decided to outscore people in 2012.

But obviously Dykes needs help in coaching defense, which brings us to another perpetual Berkeley problem: getting and keeping quality assistant coaches. The high cost of living in the Bay Area discourages many from even applying, much less staying.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour said the resources exist to offer adequate salaries, but given the hefty buyout due Tedford and Dykes' salary, which will top seven figures annually, a lot is already invested in football staff paychecks. When librarians are being laid off, it is hard to explain paying somebody $100,000 to coach linebackers.

Dykes is no stranger to the Pac-12 having worked at Arizona for two years as offensive coordinator before taking over at Louisiana Tech. And he seems genuinely impressed with Cal. I just hope he knows what he's getting himself into.

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