BERKELEY, Calif. – Every coach wins the press conference. Every hire is the athletic director’s first choice. These are coaching-search staples.
As Cal unveiled new head coach Sonny Dykes before a packed press conference at Memorial Stadium on Thursday, it was hard not to read between the lines and think that those staples were actually pretty close to the truth in this case. The boosters were excited, the vice chancellor was grinning and it seemed as though the sun was shinning in Strawberry Canyon for the first time in years as the team shifted out of neutral.
[Related video: Dykes explains why he wanted to coach at Cal]
The Golden Bears picked up a coach who was a hot commodity and fairly big name, with a flashy offense that will help sell seats at renovated Memorial Stadium. He has the ability to provide what has been lacking the past few years at the program: wins. And he understands that winning alone is not enough at Cal; you have to win the right way.
“His win-everywhere mentality is ultimately what brought coach Dykes to Berkley,” athletic director Sandy Barbour said. “Today’s announcement is one informed by a careful examination of our history, tradition, culture, mission, vision and core values.”
[Related: Cal fans should pay attention to punts, too]
As one may expect when hiring Dykes, the chief architect of one of the country’s best offenses, there was a lot of excitement about what he’ll bring to the program on that side of the ball. Naturally that leads to questions about what he doesn’t bring defensively. Dykes addressed these head-on on Thursday.
“The biggest, most important hire that I make is hiring a defensive coordinator that will come in and get to work from day one and get a defense established,” he said. “In the Pac-12, you’ve got to play a versatile defense. One week you may play Stanford and one week you may play Oregon. Those are two completely different teams philosophically, but you have to be prepared to play against both styles of football.”
Dykes returned to defense often during his give and take with reporters. His mentor Mike Leach is up at Washington State, Chip Kelly is scheming at Oregon, and UCLA looks primed for a nice run with quarterback Brett Hundley under center, just to mention a few programs. Yet in 2012 it was Stanford, built on a bruising front seven on defense and power running game, that won the league.
“We want to play great defense,” said Dykes. “Great defense is like pitching: It’s consistent, day in and day out. If you can be a great defensive football team, that’s going to allow you the opportunity to win every ball game.”
[Related video: Cal AD Sandy Barbour introduces Sonny Dykes]
Dykes hopes to have his staff hired and out recruiting over the next two weeks, which will play a big part in determining the direction of the program. When he finally sits down to break down film of last season he’ll find plenty of pieces to build around. Redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Kline, a former blue-chip recruit, figures to fit in well, assuming he picks up the offense quickly enough to grab the job under center. And there are receivers and running backs ready to put up big numbers down the road.
But what makes Dykes’ hire so promising was how he talked Thursday about all areas of the program, not just what will happen on the field. It was recruiting. It was facilities. It was the support staff. It was academics.
“Our job every single day as coaches is to get our players to do their best every day, in any endeavor they chose to be a part of,” Dykes said. “What we have to do from day one is instill expectations. We expect our players to attend every class, every study hall session, every tutoring session and not only attend them, but do their best. We have to build an overall team that understands the opportunity they have being here, how fortunate they are being part of this university and the opportunities afforded to them.”
Berkeley went looking for a leader, and apparently found one. While his hire won’t be judged for years to come, the Sonny Dykes Era is off to a great start.