BERKELEY -- Sonny Dykes vows to light up the scoreboard as the new head coach of the California Golden Bears. As long as those offensive assaults are accompanied by the occasional New Year’s Day trip to Pasadena, the fans will oblige him.
“Everybody’s goal in the program is to reach the Rose Bowl,” he said after Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour introduced him at Memorial Stadium Thursday afternoon. “That means you’ve won a conference championship. That’s why you coach. That’s why you play.”
With 2012 marking the 75th anniversary of the Bears’ last victory in the game, Dykes, who called the Cal opening as the job he’s wanted “since day one,” has his work cut out for him. His predecessor, Jeff Tedford, was shown the door after 11 seasons for falling short of the objective, but the 43-year-old Texan and 2011 WAC Coach of the Year is confident he is the right man for the job.
“Building a winning program is going to be a process,” Dykes said as his wife Kate and two young daughters looked on. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. How many years is it going to take? I don’t know. Is it going to be next year? I don’t know…but I do know that’s what’s going to drive us every day. Every single day we get in our car and we come to work, our goal’s going to be [to] get to a Rose Bowl, and not only get there, but to win it.”
After a national coaching search that lasted a little over two weeks and enlisted the services of executive search firm DHR International and Cal rugby coach Jack Clark among others, Barbour selected Dykes, who rose to prominence for his prowess as head coach at Louisiana Tech. The details of his contract were not divulged, as they are still subject to final approval from the University of California regents.
“You’ve read all the statistics. You know the won-loss record. You know he’s led prolific offenses everywhere he’s been,” Barbour said. “You know that he’s been Coach of the Year, Recruiter of the Year, Assistant Coach of the Year.
“[But] you don’t know what an incredible fit he is to lead the young men in this program—today’s young men and those who will join us tomorrow and in the future. His ‘win everywhere’ mentality really encompasses his vision for Cal football.”
In three years, Dykes reversed the Bulldogs’ fortunes as they improved from 5-7 in 2010 to 9-3 this season and a WAC conference championship sandwiched in between. In 2012, Louisiana Tech in the top 25 and led the nation in scoring offense at a clip of 51.5 points per game, utilizing an unconventional offense where the center, and not the quarterback, calls the plays.
“What we do offensively is that we figure out who the best players are, so what we’ll do every day is rank our players by position every day,” said Dykes, who said he hopes his offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will join him in the Bay Area.
“If that means playing with seven [offensive linemen], we’re going to play with seven [offensive linemen], be creative in that way. You saw us this year at times line up with three running backs. There were times when we lined up with five receivers and no running backs. We played with two offensive tackles as tight ends. We’re figuring out who the best guys are and put them in those situations.”
Aside from one good junior year from Nate Longshore in 2006 and the days of Aaron Rodgers (2003-04), quarterback play has been a sore spot in recent years for Cal. Dykes delved into the type of player he would prefer under center.
“In a perfect world, we would have a [quarterback] who’s mobile and can carry the ball eight-10 times a game, if this was a perfect world,” Dykes said. “We haven’t had that at Louisiana Tech. Our guys have been more pocket guys, so that’s the type of play we’ve adjusted to.
“But we’re not a true spread option team. It’s not going to be [an] Oregon spread, and it’s not going to be a Texas Tech spread. We run the football a lot. I think we ended up in the top 15 in the country in rushing, and we were in the top 10 in passing, so it’s a diverse offense.”
One quarterback on the depth chart is promising freshman Zach Kline. The Danville native redshirted his first season at Cal, and Dykes knows all about him.
“Obviously, I’ve watched him, and I think he’s a heck of a player. He’s got great ability and you know, we’ll have to see how that all plays out,” Dykes said of Kline.
On the defensive side of the ball, Louisiana Tech struggled. Ironically enough, the unit finished last in the country from a statistical standpoint. Regarding the completion of his coaching staff, Dykes has set a timetable of 10-14 days to interview the remaining holdovers from the previous regime as well as prospective candidates outside the program.
“I have a list of four or five candidates I would like to talk to for defensive coordinator,” Dykes said. “In the Pac-12, you gotta have a strong defense to go with your offense. This will be my most important hire.”
New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker, a former assistant at Cal, has been rumored to be the frontrunner for the position and was asked about his status in Dykes’s plans. “It’s a possibility,” he said.
Dykes, the son of longtime Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes, has an extensive résumé as an offensive assistant, with stops at Kentucky, Texas Tech (under current Washington State coach Mike Leach), and Pac-12 rival Arizona before earning his first opportunity as a head coach with Louisiana Tech in 2010.
Despite his recent success, with only a 22-15 overall record in a smaller conference like the WAC, questions were raised about his ability to connect with his new fanbase.
“I hope it won’t take too long,” Dykes said. “I think the key to getting people to buy in is have success, and being visible, and we intend to do both. [We will] get out there in the community, and see coaches and recruit hard, and be visible as much as we can. People like to follow a winner, so if we can have success on the field and have an exciting style of play, people will follow us.”
Dykes takes the reins of a Cal program that had risen as high as No. 2 in the polls in the first half of Tedford’s tenure, only to underachieve in recent years in spite of the influx of several nationally-rated recruiting classes.
The Bears will attempt to bounce back from a 3-9 season that included a subpar 2-7 mark in conference. Dykes, who briefly spoke to the team before the press conference, is aware of a lot of the personnel he will be inheriting. With National Signing Day only two months away, Dykes elaborated on his recruiting strategy.
“I think we need to get bigger and more physical up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Dykes said. “I think that’s an area we’re going to have to address here as we move forward in recruiting.
“I think it’s imperative with the physical play that happens in this league that you’re big on both side of the line, and I think recruiting begins for us with the offensive and defensive line. I think it’s where you build your program.”
As a result, the cupboard is far from bare. Although wide receiver Keenan Allen will depart early for the NFL Draft, more than one-fifth of the scholarship players on the roster are former U.S. Army or Under Armour high school All-Americans.
Two such players, quarterback Allan Bridgford and safety Avery Sebastian, were on hand for the press conference and commented on their new head coach.
“We’ve seen the success he’s had at Arizona, Texas Tech, and Louisiana Tech, so I’m excited,” Bridgford said. “It’s going to be a real nice fit for us. We have a lot of talented receivers. We have very talented running backs in [Brendan] Bigelow and [Daniel] Lasco and those guys, who are big guys but are real fast…so I think we definitely have the personnel for this offense.”
Sebastian recapped the team’s first meeting with Dykes: “He was really enthusiastic about the opportunity to be here at Cal, and the opportunities that are going to be presented to the team. We’re all looking forward to the future and seeing how everything’s going to play out.”
Another major issue plaguing Cal in 2012 was the classroom. The Bears finished last in the Pac-12 in graduation rate at a staggering 48 percent. Dykes is cognizant that this number will be unacceptable at Berkeley, a school that prides itself on his academic tradition.
“What we have to do from day one is instill expectations,” Dykes said. “We’re going to expect our players to attend every class, to attend every study hall session, to attend every tutoring session, and not only attend them, but do their best.”
Dykes shared a brief part of his conversation with his new team Thursday morning.
“It’s like I told our players today,” he added. “‘You’re here at the number one public institution in the country…in these beautiful facilities with these beautiful resources, how could you not wake up every day excited? How could you not go out there and do your best?’ So that’s going to be our challenge to our players.”
Of course, while the sagging graduation rates did not help Tedford’s case to keep his job, the product on the field sealed his fate. With renovations to Memorial Stadium and the new Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center costing the school a combined $471 million, the pressure will be on Dykes to pack the house and deliver a winner.
“There’s no doubt that playing an exciting brand of football and winning, and having that success will draw the fans,” Barbour said. “You’re going to see those results on the football field, and that’s what we’re committed to doing.”
Ryan Maquiñana covers college sports and boxing for CSNBayArea.com. Contact him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.