Meet the coaches, part 1: Offense and special teams

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Editor’s Note:

In with the new, out with the old.

It seems new Cal football coach Sonny Dykes took that adage in stride when he was putting together his coaching staff. All coaches who worked under Jeff Tedford last year are gone, and nine coaches have come to fill their spots to join Dykes’ cabinet.

It’s rare to see so many changes happen in such a short span of time. But it can also create unfamiliarity for a lot of fans.

That’s why Daily Cal Sports chose to take this time to get to know a little more about the newcomers. Let’s meet the coaches.

— Seung Y. Lee

Sonny Dykes, Head Coach: 

None of the new coaches listed below would be at Cal without the initial arrival of the head coach, Sonny Dykes. When he was hired on Dec. 5, the former Louisiana Tech coach promised a prompt completion of his coaching staff.

Dykes brought in an entirely new set of coaches. He  was adamant that Cal football be scrapped and molded into an entirely new model to his liking.

Despite both Tedford and Dykes being heralded as offensive masterminds when they arrived at Berkeley, the two couldn’t be any more different. Tedford was a guru of the pro-style offense; Dykes was an innovator of the ever-growing Air Raid offense.

Dykes’ offensive system, developed by his mentors Hal Mumme and Mike Leach at Kentucky and Texas Tech, respectively, relies on fast tempo and unconventional schemes. Combining a hurry-up with an extremely pass-heavy offense, Dykes’ system aims at exhausting and disorienting the opponents.

The prolific Louisiana Tech offense that Dykes coached from 2009 to 2011 relied on a diamond formation — involving two fullbacks and one halfback — that uses unorthodox running routes to exploit the defensive holes created in the frenzy of the hurry-up offense.

The staggering numbers that the Bulldogs produced last season spoke to the efficiency and the explosiveness of Dykes’ Air Raid offense. Louisiana Tech, who finished the season with a 9-3 record, was first in the nation in total yards per game and total points per game. Quarterback Colby Cameron finished his senior season with 4,157 yards, 31 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

The most noticeable aspect of Dykes’ success in Ruston, La. was his ability to develop recruits that were overlooked by bigger programs. Cameron was a two-star recruit when he entered Louisiana Tech. Running back Kenneth Dixon and wide receiver Quinton Patton, who posted video game-like statistics, were both three-star recruits.

In that respect, Dykes is the opposite of Tedford. Tedford raked in many five-star recruits who failed to reach their ceiling. Dykes created stat-bloating monsters with much less-heralded players.

Dykes is doing everything to separate himself from Tedford. Unlike the stoic and secretive Tedford, he’s holding open practices to the media. Dykes chose to live close to Memorial Stadium so that his family can visit him during work. Tedford was famous for regularly sleeping in his office, far away from his family, who lived in Danville.

In raw potential, Dykes has a lot of material to work with to leave his mark at Berkeley. Considering the systematic overhaul, Dykes’ project might take a lot of time.

There’s as much risk as there is reward for having an unconventional coach like Dykes at the helm. But one way or the other, it’s going to be so much fun to watch.

— Seung Y. Lee

Tony Franklin, Offensive Coordinator: 

Somehow, someway, Tony Franklin is now an offensive coordinator at a Pac-12 school.

Franklin, disciple of Mike Leach and Hal Mumme, is heralded nowadays as somewhat of an offensive mastermind — the archetypal mad genius. He served as Dykes’ offensive coordinator last year at Louisiana Tech. That sentence likely seemed unfathomable to Franklin just a decade ago.

After blowing the whistle on recruiting violations as an assistant coach at Kentucky, Franklin found himself blackballed by the college football establishment. He wrote a book called “Fourth Down and Life to Go,” detailing the gory details of the cheating existing behind the scenes at Kentucky. Such a public admission symbolized an effective resignation from the larger football establishment.

“In this profession, you’re much better known to be a cheater than you would be to be a rat, I’ll say that. I think cheaters can get jobs a whole lot easier than a guy that’s perceived to be a rat or a mole,” Franklin said in an interview with Outside The Lines.

Outside that establishment Franklin remained for almost six years. He slogged in the high school ranks, selling his Air Raid derivative “Tony Franklin system” to high school coaches attempting to forge a unique path in opposition to the traditional run-first offenses prevalent in the southern United States.

By 2006, word spread of the effectiveness of Franklin’s “System,” and Troy decided to hire Franklin after finishing last in the Sun Belt Conference in offense. Franklin immediately transitioned Troy into an offensive juggernaut, bringing it from 109th nationally in total offense to 16th. The Trojans subsequently won back-to-back league titles, and Franklin had his reputation back firmly in place.

Brief stints at Auburn and Middle Tennessee State eventually led to a linkup with Dykes at Louisiana Tech. The two came to know each other during their time at Kentucky, learning the Air Raid under Mumme. Conflating their offensive philosophies at Louisiana Tech, the pair turned a lackluster program into the nation’s best offense in three years.

The Air Raid offense at its core is a fast-paced, no-huddle, pass-happy barrage. The Mesh route concept fuels its success, running two receivers on crossing routes underneath to set up a legal pick and throwing two receivers downfield and in the flats to spread the defense.

Franklin and Dykes added wrinkles to their own Air Raid, running a 50-50 spread of run and pass, unheard of previously in Air Raid reincarnations.

With the athletes Franklin will have at his disposal at Cal, the offense may evolve to forms unseen in college football.

Michael Rosen

Rob Likens, Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers Coach:

Adjusting to a new offensive scheme isn’t always a smooth transition, so Rob Likens looks to  play an invaluable role in helping Cal’s wide receivers make a smooth transition into Sonny Dykes’ system.

Recently hired as assistant head coach and the wide receivers coach, Likens will build the corps without star Keenan Allen. He will work closely with sophomore receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs.

After losing Allen to the NFL draft, Cal’s wide receivers will rely heavily on Harper, who was one of the few bright spots in the disappointing 2012 campaign. Harper was the only consistent threat through the air behind Allen — statistically, he finished second in yards, receptions and touchdowns.

Likens coached with Dykes at Louisiana Tech, helping direct an offensive unit that ranked first in scoring in all of college football last season. The Bulldogs featured the fourth-best passing attack in the country, widely due to great wide receiver play.

As assistant head coach and wide receivers coach at Ruston, La., Likens developed star wideout Quinton Patton. Patton finished the 2012 season ranked fourth in receiving yards per game (116 ypg) and receptions per game (8.67). He was also tied for 5th for touchdown catches in the season (13). By the end of the year, Likens’ receivers compiled well over 4,000 yards.

Likens’ first year at Louisiana Tech, 2010, was marked by a drastic improvement in the team’s passing attack. In 2009, the Bulldogs were ranked 91st in passing offense, a ranking that rose to 62nd by the end of 2010.

Prior to coaching at Louisiana Tech, Likens’ held offensive coaching positions at Central Connecticut State, Southeast Missouri State, Temple and North Alabama.

As the Bears look to install a new offense, Dykes will be counting on Likens to bring out the full potential in Harper and company.

Sean Wagner-McGough

Pierre Ingram, Running Backs Coach: 

The third of Sonny Dykes’ hires in this new era of Cal football, Pierre Ingram already knows a thing or two about the head honcho’s style of play. That’s because Ingram blossomed into Louisiana Tech’s running backs coach under Dykes throughout the last three seasons.

There, the ground game accumulated more than 1,900 yards in the 2011 campaign.

Now, as one of the many coaches to transfer alongside Dykes to Cal, Ingram is ready to amp up the Bears’ potential on the ground. The key, he says, is simple: Brendan Bigelow. Exhibit A in 2012 was, of course, the game at Ohio State, in which Bigelow had four carries for 160 yards.

“You turn that on, watch those first couple plays, and as a coach, you can turn the tape off after that,” Ingram said in an interview shortly after being named running backs coach. “The kid has it.”


— Annie Gerlach

Zach Yenser, Offensive Line Coach: 

The end was in sight for Sonny Dykes by the time he hired Zach Yenser. Despite joining the likes of Ingram and Likens as one of the many coaches to follow Dykes from Louisiana Tech to Cal, Yesner is the only one to receive a title upgrade.

With the Bulldogs he was a graduate assistant to Pete Perot on the offensive line. Starting now, Yenser will be the one calling the shots for the Bears’ offensive line.

Stepping out from someone else’s shadow, Yenser will certainly spend the 2013 season beefing up his profile and showing what he’s capable of. He will also have to contend with what might have been the most glaring problem for the Bears last season: the offensive line. Cal’s line gave up an abysmal 41 sacks for 270 yards last year — good for second-most in the entire FBS.

Fortunately, Yenser has a familiar face to look up to — he’s literally followed offensive coordinator Tony Franklin for years. He played under Franklin at Troy in the 2006 season and was a GA in 2007.

— Annie Gerlach

Mark Tommerdahl, Special Teams Coordinator/Inside Receivers Coach:

Cal’s special teams in 2012 were bad. Under the direction of Jeff Genyk, the Bears ranked 83rd in the nation in allowing more than nine yards per punt return, while ranking 90th in average punt length at just under 40.

Cal’s kickoff stats were equally disappointing, as the squad always seemed to be on the wrong side of the field position battle.

Enter Mark Tommerdahl, who brings nearly 30 years of coaching experience to a team that desperately needs to shore up its special teams play.

Last year at Louisiana Tech, Tommerdahl’s special teams unit ranked first in the nation in net yards per punt at just more than 48 per kick. It was those kind of numbers that had punter Ryan Allen win the Ray Guy Award for the second year in a row.

In addition to heading the special teams effort, Tommerdahl will also be in charge of the inside receivers.

— Connor Byrne

The defensive coaches will be continued in Meet the coaches, part 2. 

Contact Daily Cal Sports at [email protected].