Sonny Dykes at the Smokehouse

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By Dave Newhouse, Contributing Writer
Posted Feb 18, 2013
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Sonny Dykes was munching on a cheeseburger and drinking fruit punch on a sun-kissed winter's day at the Smokehouse, a Berkeley institution since 1951, when he was asked to come clean as California's new football coach.

So, Sonny, what's your real first name?

"It's actually Daniel," he said. "I was named after my dad's two best friends, Daniel and Sonny. Nobody calls me Daniel. Well, my mom did when I was little after she got mad at me. But nobody since then."

What about your father, the legendary Texas Tech coach, Spike Dykes? He doesn't have Spike on his birth certificate, does he?

"His real name is William Taylor Dykes," said the son. "There was an old comic book character named Spike Dykes. His dad called him Spike. But my brother's name is Franklin Andrew, and he goes by Rick. My sister's name is Elizabeth Ann, and she goes by Bebe. And I have two daughters, Alta Caroline, who goes by Allie, and Charlotte Lee, who goes by Charlie. We have a lot of aliases in our family."

Identifying the Dykes family tree, therefore, requires some effort. But identifying what it will take to rebuild Cal's football team in time for the season opener with Northwestern†on Aug. 31st†at Memorial Stadium is Dykes' main concern.

Thus Cal's spring practice later this month has become Dykes' primary focus. He must find a quarterback as well as other key positions because, following Northwestern, Dykes also has†Ohio State†and Oregon among his first four opponents.

But sitting outdoors at the Smokehouse, unnoticed by other customers in spite of his blue pullover shirt with the gold "Cal" insignia, Dykes addressed a variety of issues, including what makes the game of football beautiful.

"Football is a game where there are so many moving pieces," he said. "In order to play at a high level, all the moving pieces have to move together. It seems simple, but in order to get execution, it's eleven guys moving together, whether it's offense, defense or special teams."

"I'm an offensive coach by nature, but I'll split my time in practice because it's important for the defensive players to see the head coach, showing that he cares about them. And I'll spend time with special teams, once again for emphasis."

But Dykes is seeking something more significant over time: The building of a "football culture" - a seamless state of mind and body so strong and binding that it feeds on itself and carries over, in Dykes' view, much like the culture that is the New England Patriots.

"It's an investment," he explained. "It all begins with trust. The players have to believe that the coaches have their best interests at heart. You want good players and good people. If you get them to invest in the program, it becomes difficult to lose."

To achieve such a culture, however, a coach must implement it and then stay around to watch it grow.

"I have no aspirations at all to go the the NFL," said Dykes, who is 43. "And what university has more to offer than Cal? Look at everything - the quality of life in the Bay Area, and the resources here. I'd like to make this my last coaching job. Hopefully, we'll be successful enough so I can do that."

While building a 22-15 record in three years at Louisiana Tech, Dykes said he had coaching offers in the Southwest. But even as a Texas native son, and a former first baseman at Texas Tech, he determined that his future was on the West Coast.

His coaching methods differ from his predecessor, Jeff Tedford, who is responsible for the "resources" Dykes now enjoys - a renovated stadium and a vastly improved training facility.

Dykes and his coaches, unlike Tedford's staff, will not sleep in their offices.

"It's important to get home," Dykes said. "It's a long, long grind, and there is stress. You work hard, but it's important to get away. We'll get our work done, but every night after practice, I'll encourage our staff to get home."

Dykes' coaching demeanor isn't demonstrative. He isn't a Jim Harbaugh.

"l have my moments where you need to get your point across, but a coach's job is to teach," Dykes said. "The other (in-your-face style) doesn't work. You teach like you teach in the classroom.

"I'll work the (game) officials a little bit, but I view officials like I do sportswriters. We all have a job to do, and the easiest way to do it is to work together. That's why I'm open with reporters. I don't see that it has to be an adversarial relationship."

Dykes has a folksy demeanor, and a somewhat laissez faire approach to football, i.e., he will open practices to the fans. And he isn't promising conference titles and national championships from the get-go, both of which Tedford did promise, though he proved half-right (a shared Pac-10 title with USC in 2006).

"Saying you're going to the Rose Bowl, what does it do for you?" said Dykes. "It doesn't really do anything. Everybody would like to go to the Rose Bowl. We just have to improve, to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday."

Dykes has reached out to Tedford, who now lives in Reno after receiving a $5.5-million settlement from Cal, reduced from the $6.9 million owed to him.

"I called Jeff to get a lay of the land," said Dykes. "I plan to call him again next week. He seems like a great guy. I have great respect for Jeff and what he did for Cal football, which he made relevant again. Getting that stadium rebuilt was a miracle."

Tedford caved in to the players by allowing them to pick the practice times as well as the team's uniforms, thus reducing his authority. Dykes will pick the practice times (afternoons) and - hallelujah! - the uniforms.

Tired of white helmets, Cal fans, and white or mustard yellow pants? Dykes is your savior because he will reinvent the traditional blue-and-gold school colors.

"I'm a big believer in tradition," he said, "and we'll make the uniforms as traditional as possible. I want one consistent home uniform -- blue helmets, blue jerseys, gold pants. On the road, we'll change up a little bit -- white on white, white with blue pants, but always with blue helmets. I don't think we should be what we're not. We're not Oregon; we don't want to try and be like Oregon."

In this writer's view, Oregon is devoid of tradition with its ridiculous, Nike-driven, assortment of uniforms.

"That was a good cheeseburger," Dykes mentioned as we left the Smokehouse.

He is interested in the East Bay gustatory scene. So far, he has tasted the sausages at Top Dog and the pizza at Zachary's. He plans to have an ice cream confection at Fenton's soon. He even dropped into the Kingfish for a brew.

"Could you drop me off at the Cal baseball game on the way back?" Dykes asked. "I want to make an appearance."

Cal Baseball played Michigan over the weekend. Dykes stopped by to watch Friday's game, which the Bears won. Cal then won Saturday and Sunday to sweep the series.

Maybe Dykes can carry that same magic touch into the fall.

(Dave Newhouse, retired Oakland Tribune columnist, writes occasionally for†bearinsider.com. Check out his two e-books, "Before Boxing Lost Its Punch" and the Cal-related novel "White Lightning", on amazon.com†at $5.99 apiece)

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