Sonny Dykes should have been gone a while ago

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Sonny Dykes is gone. And despite his best efforts to find another job these last few years, he didn’t leave of his own accord. Instead, Dykes was fired Sunday, bringing an end to a tenure that can most charitably be described as tumultuous.

Even with all the people thanking Dykes for what he’s done for the program, there’s been a pretty uniform sentiment among the team’s followers.

What took so long?

Dykes went 19-30 in his four seasons, peaking with an 8-5 record in 2015. His defense was reliably outside the nation’s top 100, which is an almost impressively consistent level of bad. He only managed to beat one of the Bears’ three main rivals in 12 tries. His in-game decision-making was questionable, and he notably failed to put in backups when the Bears were getting blown out (yes, they got blown out so much that this emerged as a legitimate problem).

That’s just scratching the surface, not even to mention that he blamed his players’ lack of talent for consistent tackling struggles or the fact that, save for Demetris Robertson, recruiting has been a disaster.

With the athletic department in tough financial straits — according to Bloomberg, Cal Athletics is in more debt than any other athletic program in the nation — this move was beginning to feel unlikely for now. Could Cal Athletics financially afford to fire Dykes, even if they wanted to?

That answer came Sunday.

“All athletic departments including Cal’s are at a point where we need to be striving to reach financial sustainability,” said athletic director Mike Williams in a Sunday press conference. “We can’t do that at Cal without a winning football program to give us the financial resources to go forward.”

Cal Athletics seems to be banking on this move to pay for itself when Dykes’ replacement improves the football program, bolstering fan engagement and, theoretically, alumni donations.

But this isn’t all about money. Williams made it very clear that the administration was not happy with Dykes’ lack of commitment to Cal. For the second consecutive year, Dykes was one of the top candidates for a job closer to his Texas roots. This time it was Baylor University, and Dykes didn’t even go through the formality of publicly assuring everyone he was committed to Cal despite being in the throes of recruiting season.

Given the nature of Williams’ comments during his press conference — he mentioned wanting a coach that “is fully committed” to the program — it seems safe to assume that this was the nudge they needed to fire Dykes. This perhaps partially explains why the decision was made so far after the end of Cal’s season.

But whether Dykes was fired because the donors and administration were offended by his job hunting (by the way, how could Chip Kelly solve that?) or because of his terrible on-field results, the important thing is that the right choice was certainly made. Dykes leaves the program in a better place than when he got it, at least academically, but the next coach will inherit a team with myriad issues that Dykes helped manufacture.

There’s the culture of a team not used to winning after years of bad coaching. There’s a group of players who may be surprised when their head coach actually attends the defensive portions of practice. There’s a small recruiting class unlikely to grow until a replacement is chosen. There are no quarterbacks with even an ounce of legitimate in-game experience on the roster.

So whoever steps up to lead Cal next, whether it be Kelly, Jake Spavital, Justin Wilcox or someone else, will be dealt a tough hand. Chances are, the new coach is going to struggle at first. But don’t be mistaken. Replacing Dykes was the right call, even though it was long overdue.

Hooman Yazdanian covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian

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  • Bob Bell

    Dykes was a failure, no doubt about that, but I just don’t understand the sentiment that the firing should have happened “a while ago”. Unless he starts issuing leather helmets and running the single-wing, a coach taking over a down program deserves a chance to have the players he recruited run his system – that means 3 years, maybe 4. And Dykes’ third year was, by some measures, successful. Remember Tom Landry didn’t have a winning season with the Cowboys for 5 or 6 years, and he turned out OK. That said, don’t issue a contract extension every time the coach jogs onto the field without tripping. Give them their 3 or 4 years and then re-evaluate. If you start firing coaches after a year or two, you’ll never get a good coach again, it becomes a death spiral. I also wonder about the administration’s commitment to football. Why was Dykes always visibly “job searching” for jobs he really didn’t have a chance at? Is he that much of a jerk (possible) or was he looking to get fired and take a golden parachute out of a hopeless situation?

  • John Smith

    And who do they replace him with? An assistant in the same damned system; somebody who is just like an inexperienced Sonny Dykes; a baby Dykes, if you will..The same, only cheaper.

    It is truly unbelievable and as an alum, I’m completely fed up to the point where I no longer care about what happens. I will have, however, some choice words for the next person calling to beg me for a donation to Cal. Words which end with “take me off your list, forever”.