By all accounts, California had become the epitome of a college football program grown stale under Jeff Tedford.
The magic of his early years, with Aaron Rodgers, had devolved into poor quarterbacking, mercurial results and overall underachievement. Tedford himself once conceded that the Bears had fallen behind in use of social media in a Gen Z world.
So now for something completely different. Sonny Dykes, 43, represents the Bears’ biggest departure from West Coast background and regional experience since Marv Levy coached Cal from 1960 to 1963.
They went all the way to Ruston, La., and Louisiana Tech for this one, which means there are a few lifestyle differences for Dykes.
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“No. 1, the cost of real estate,” Dykes told me the other day. “But it’s been good. My interests are kind of varied. I like the culture here. I find it fascinating.
“Berkeley has the reputation for being kind of out there. But Berkeley and Austin, Texas (his native state) are really remarkably similar. In a weird sort of way, it’s kind of felt like home to me.”
Friday, Dykes made his first big decision, naming true freshman Jared Goff the starting quarterback. Goff has a lot on his plate with a rugged September schedule looming, while in a bigger picture, Dykes has become the point man for some overarching issues at Cal.
A $474 million facilities renovation — biggest in college history — has been finished, but the financing behind it has teetered, making it all the more important that Cal football get back on its feet.
The San Jose Mercury-News reported that a shortfall in premium-seating pledges has caused the Bears to rent empty space in their stadium to university entities like the Haas School of Business, and there are tentative plans to divert operating-budget funds into servicing the facilities debt.
Dykes is properly philosophical, saying: “I don’t have any control over that. If we field a good football team, people will come and want to be a part of it.”
Something Dykes can affect is Cal’s sinking academic performance under Tedford. In the most recent NCAA reckoning of Academic Progress Rate and Graduation Success Rate, Cal was last in the Pac-12 with 935 and 48, respectively.
“That falls directly on my lap,” Dykes said. “That academic thing is going to get fixed fast.”
Whether that describes the football outlook is a matter of debate. Pac-12 media pick the Bears fifth in the North, a little ahead of Washington State and the coach Dykes answered to for seven years at Texas Tech, Mike Leach.
Goff (6-4, 205) won the job for his sense of timing and, Dykes says, he “avoids the rush incredibly well.”
The development of tailback Brendan Bigelow might tell us a lot about the Tedford-Dykes handoff. Last year, Bigelow had a ridiculous 160 yards on four carries in a boffo day at Ohio State, but enigmatically, played only in spots the rest of the way. Tedford intimated that he needed to know the offense better.
Dykes calls Bigelow “a pretty special guy.” Sophomore Daniel Lasco (6-1, 200), who, like Bigelow, sat out the spring with an injury, “is a big-time surprise,” Dykes said.
Much of the defensive line still needs to match its incoming press reviews, while Dykes sees a big year for defensive tackle Deandre Coleman, a Garfield High product.
“He’s probably been the most consistent guy on our team, in terms of his approach to everything,” Dykes said.
Don’t assume Cal will resemble Leach’s team. Dykes said it should look like a combination of WSU and Oregon, that it’ll be fast-paced, and he’d like to run the ball 50 percent of the time. His last Louisiana Tech team had Kenneth Dixon, who rushed for 1,194 yards and 27 touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ nation-leading offense.
“In terms of a ceiling,” Dykes said, “I think this is a better team than maybe the consensus is out there.”
That — along with Dykes — would be a switch for the Bears.