Success is a relative thing. Depending on expectations,what’s success for one team can quickly be seen as failure for another.
A team like Cal football will always be burdened with heavy expectations because the team will always be compared with what it used to be — as well as to its Pac-12 rivals with more resources.
So it’s understandable why Cal head coach Sonny Dykes might not be everybody’s favorite person on campus right now. From a glance at what he’s done in his first two years, his 6-18 overall record and underperforming defense have disappointed many. Despite the depth and success on the offensive end because of his Air Raid offense, the touchdowns haven’t really translated to the wins and celebrations fans have wanted.
So is Dykes a bad coach? Although the Bears during Dykes’ tenure have been largely underwhelming, two years and 24 games is too small of a sample size to evaluate and make final judgments on Dykes. When Dykes was brought in during 2013, Cal football was coming off a three-win 2012 season. Although that season was disappointing, there was a lot to be excited about prior to the 2012 season with quarterback Zach Maynard, running backs CJ Anderson and Ise Sofele, and receiver Keenan Allen entering their final years with the team.
Generally, teams’ performances will fluctuate yearly, and the season in which all the star players are in their final year will be more successful. After that, the team will naturally regress. Unfortunately for Cal, a combination of injuries and systematic coaching problems turned what was supposed to be a peak year in 2012 to a down year.
After a three-win campaign, fans will obviously expect improvement the next season and the avoidance of a year similar to 2012. As a result, Dykes was expected to come in and fix everything. But that’s an unrealistic expectation for a coach who needed to install both a new playbook and new philosophy into the program. On top of that, he needed to do that with many players who had limited experience and had not made significant contributions in 2012. Essentially, Dykes had to start over.
But that takes time. And for Cal fans who always hoped the Bears would make the Rose Bowl, waiting might be hard to accept.
It’s easy to simply say Dykes is incompetent and needs to go, but to some degree, he stepped into a lose-lose situation because of what people expected him to do with the little resources he had to start with. Would the coaches Cal could feasibly hire be able to produce better results under the same circumstances? Is firing Dykes and going through a cycle of new head coaches every year really what’s best for the program?
This doesn’t mean Dykes is necessarily a great coach. There haven’t been any big-name recruits, although recruiting has been decent considering Cal’s recent woes. It also seems as though Dykes just neglects defense. One explanation could be that his playbook favors offense over time of possession. Dykes wants his team to score fast and play uptempo, and as a result, opposing offenses tend to play fast to catch up, leaving the defense to constantly be attacked.
This kind of game plan should lead to a high-scoring game that favors the Bears, but one way of protecting a defense is to run the ball to control the clock and give the defense some time to rest. Much of the past two years have been quarterback Jared Goff throwing. Cal passed on 57.6 percent of all its plays and ran the ball just 42.4 percent in 2014.
But this kind of uneven distribution on offense wasn’t always the case for Dykes’ teams. At Louisiana Tech, rushing was a lot more prominent, and the Bulldogs actually ran more than they passed in 2010 and 2011. Louisiana Tech’s defense wasn’t great, but the running game helped control the clock and limit the time the defense had to be on the field. Dykes could emphasize running more as a way of assisting a struggling Bears defense, though that’s something Cal hasn’t focused on.
It is completely understandable why some don’t like Dykes. But this looming third year is going to be a big indicator of whether he is the long-term answer. Dykes’ team and staff are now more familiar with what he wants to accomplish, and the players he groomed within this system will give him the experienced personnel he needs to try to give Cal a winning season. This season could be the Bears’ turn to enter their peak year, and the pressure’s going to be on Dykes to capitalize and give the fans and the program a reason to hold onto him.
Ritchie Lee covers football. Contact him at [email protected].