Grading the Coaching Hires: Sonny Dykes and Cal

Hey, remember the last time Cal went to the Rose Bowl? Ya me neither and that was part of the issue for Jeff Tedford, despite his 82 wins in 11 seasons. The Golden Bears program has never been this amazingly awesome program, at least in the modern era, and despite the fact that Tedford won the most games of any head coach in school history he was unable to sustain any momentum the program had early on. He won just one conference championship and since that title in 2006 his team never again won more than 9 games, suffering two losing seasons in his final 3 seasons in Berkley. 

Clearly the momentum and the talent were taking a turn for the worse and that meant time to part ways after Tedford's worst season in his career at Cal, a 3-9 effort this past season. It was the worst record since 2001 and with a $321 million renovation to Memorial Stadium that's not exactly how the athletic department envisioned things going.

Enter in Sonny Dykes, the man behind one of the more exciting offenses in the country at Louisiana Tech, earning a 9-3 record in his final season at the helm of the Bulldogs. The Golden Bears hope he can lead this team to the promised land of consistently competitive teams once again. But, can Dykes accomplish something no one has done at Cal in 55 years – go to the Rose Bowl? Ultimately he'll need to get there if he wants to get out of the shadow of Tedford's early years of the program. 

Why We Like the Hire

In a world of what have you done for me lately and high spending by even the most consistently bad programs Cal went out and got a young, high flying head coach. They also got one that is quick at turning things around. His three teams at La Tech went from 5-7 to 8-5 and finally to 9-3 this past season. Dykes also has coached in the Pac-12 before as a member of Mike Stoops' Arizona team.

Dykes also has proven he can be a bit of a QB guy, something Tedford was earlier on in his career. His 2012 QB Colby Cameron averaged 360.3 yards per game of total offense, good for 4th in the nation and it's with that track record that Cal has to be excited about hiring Dykes.  Not only that, but his last offense at La Tech was 2nd nationally in total yards a game, averaging 577.9 yards a game as  a team. What's not to like about high flying offenses, right? 

Oh, and we haven't even mentioned one of the more interesting parts of this hire – Dykes' Bulldogs offense in 2012 ranked 2nd in scoring at 50.8 points per game, trailing only his Pac-12 North brethren Oregon's 51.5 points per game. Clearly, at least offensively his teams can compete with anything that the Pac-12 North can throw at them in the scoring department.

He fits in well with the culture of the Pac-12 and he'll definitely bring in a new and refreshing energy, something that has been missing from the program for quite some time. He'll also be a tireless worker with the brand new resources this athletics department has given him with the renovations to Memorial Stadium and such. 

Why We Don't Like the Hire

Dykes only has three years of head coaching experience and it was all in the less than stellar WAC conference. Sure, he improved his teams over the years there, but doing that in a lower conference is much, MUCH easier than getting it done in the rough and tumble Pac-12 North, a division that includes top 25 teams like Oregon, Stanford, and Oregon State not to mention Washington and his mentor in Mike Leach.

Then there's this little matter of actually playing defense. We like the fact that he hired Andy Buh, who's most recent stop was at Wisconsin as their linebackers coach in 2012, because he has great recruiting ties to the west coast and has been a defensive coordinator at Nevada in the past. Buh's defenses have always gotten better than they were before he got there. Even so, does that mean he will get it done for Dykes? 

Let's face it, the Mike Leach coaching tree isn't exactly known for it's defensive side. I mean just look at West Virginia this past season if you need any proof of what I"m talking about. If they can't play defense, even just a little bit, it may not be as easy to out point opponents in this conference than in the WAC. 

What Kind of Talent Does He Inherit?

The better question, at least on offense is who won't be a new face?

Unfortunately for Dykes he won't have the school's all-time leading receiver in Keenan Allen, who is declaring early for the NFL draft, and will have to remake an offensive line that will lose three starters along with losing the top two running backs and QB Zach Maynard. 

So, at least he'll be able to remake the Cal offense in his mold, right? 

Defensively there is an interesting group of younger players at the linebacker spots, something that should be right up the alley of new DC Andy Buh. They also could have some talent in the secondary, at least in Safety Michael Lowe and Steve Williams. 

Yeah, But Can He Recruit?

What will be interesting to watch is how the recruiting class shapes up, it was a pretty promising before Dykes' hire and it appears that a lot of the class has stuck with the new head coach. This is where Dykes may have his men in QB Jared Goff and his RB in Khalfani Muhammad along with some very promising talent on the defensive side of the football as well. As long as he keeps this class together he'll be in a position to grow this team quickly.

Dykes has talked openly in the past about this being a dream area for him to live and coach in and let's face it, recruiting talent out of California isn't the hardest thing in the world. Especially when you've got world class facilities like Cal now has to complement world class academics as well. 

He'll be just fine recruiting to Cal, especially if his early job of keep the 2013 class together is any indication. 

Final Thoughts

There's a lot to really like about the fit between Cal and Sonny Dykes. Despite the crappy records in the final few years it's also not as if the cupboard is totally bare or anything either. However, with only three years of head coaching experience there's a large leap of faith that has to be taken.

He'll need to prove that he's not going to be like the last La Tech coach to move on to a big gig, Derek Dooley, or this hire could go down in Cal history as a big time swing and miss. Don't expect that to be the case though as he's surrounding himself with the right kind of people at the coordinator positions and that will help mask what any inexperience he has as a head coach. 

Cal is never going to attract the biggest names on the coaching carousel, but hiring a man who's full of energy and who's offense could revive the fanbase was exactly what the Golden Bears needed following Tedford's ho-hum nature. 

Coaching Hire: B +

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Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a contributor to The Comeback as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10. He also is a member of the FWAA and has been covering college sports since 2011. Andy is an avid soccer fan and runs the Celtic FC site The Celtic Bhoys. If he's not writing about sports, you can find him enjoying them in front of the TV with a good beer!