Dykes’ arrival marks new chapter in Cal football history

Tony Zhou/Staff

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Amid the downpour of dead week, excitement is in the Berkeley air.

Call it the oncoming Bear raid. Or perhaps Air Bears.

With Sonny Dykes and the “air raid” offense coming to Cal, nicknames for the 2013 Bears’ offense have already been floated throughout the campus community and blogosphere.

“What’s exciting is our brand of football is fun,” said Dykes at Thursday’s press conference introducing him as the Cal football team’s new head coach. “I can’t really begin to say how special it is to stand here as head coach at Cal … It’s a dream come true.”

But the football program is a puzzle, and at the field club at Memorial Stadium, the talk was about how the hiring of Dykes fits the pieces together.

After firing Jeff Tedford on Nov. 20 following a 3-9 season, Athletics Director Sandy Barbour formed a search advisory committee that included student-athletes, football alumni, faculty members and other coaches. The group, which did not interview candidates or even mention names, came up with a consensus on the personal characteristics, values and experience the new coach should have.

Barbour said that Dykes — the Louisiana Tech head coach who, in three seasons, led the squad to a 22-15 record and a league title in 2011 — was whom they had in mind in that room on Nov. 26.

“You’ve read all the statistics, but until you meet the man and spend time with him and probe his values and hopes and dream … you don’t know what an incredible fit he is to lead the young men in this program,” Barbour said. “His win-everywhere mentality is ultimately what has brought coach Dykes to Berkeley.”

Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance John Wilton, who along with Chancellor Robert Birgeneau advised Barbour during the selection process, called Dykes the first choice. Barbour said she interviewed numerous candidates but kept coming back to Dykes after his initial interview.

“When he walked out of the room, I said to myself, ‘I think that’s the guy,’” Barbour said.

Dykes said there were a lot of viable coaching jobs available, but he was interested in Cal from the onset.

“Cal has a commitment to excellence,” he said, “a commitment to win every single day and in every single way.”

Dykes’ Louisiana Tech squad led the nation in scoring this past season. As a position coach and offensive coordinator from 2000-09, he helped transform Texas Tech and Arizona into offensive juggernauts with his explosive shotgun-based spread offense.

Dykes said success comes with putting the best players on the field, whether that is seven offensive linemen or five receivers. It is a simple offense, he said, one that is predicated on taking what the defense gives the team.

But for all his pedigree on the offensive end, Louisiana Tech ranked No. 119 in defense in 2012. Dykes said that hiring a defensive coordinator would be his most important hire.

“I’m gonna go get the best, bring him here and combine great defense with great offense with great special teams and try to go win a championship,” Dykes said.

Besides the Bears’ 3-9 season in 2012, the squad has the league’s worst graduation rate at 48 percent. Dykes said he believes there is a direct correlation to success in academics and athletics. That was a point of focus when he met with the team earlier in the day.

As for the next few weeks, Dykes will be off recruiting — both players and coaches. He hopes to have his staff mostly complete by Christmas, with as many as three or four hopefully hired by Monday. He plans to interview Cal assistants.

In recruiting athletes, he said getting the state of California is paramount to the program’s success.

For now, Barbour is glad that her search is over, and a whirlwind two days has ended for Dykes.

“We’ll look back at it all and say it was the best 48 hours of my life,” he said.

Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]