On Sunday afternoon, Sonny Dykes drew a line in the sand.
In making the decision to dismiss junior defensive end Chris McCain from the team, Dykes provided a clear illustration that he is going to do everything in his power to ensure the 2013 Cal football team in no way whatsoever resembles the 2012 incarnation. And that is exactly what he needs to do if his team is to have any sort of success this year.
Last year’s squad was hard to watch on the field and even harder to read about in the headlines, with reports of embarrassing APR scores and rumors of locker-room dissension littering the media. There were no redeeming qualities to be found and nothing to feel good about at the end of the day.
This season, the Bears haven’t looked too different on the field. The squad has played plenty of undisciplined and mistake-prone football to open the 2013 season. The result has been a somewhat disappointing — though not unexpected — 1-3 start, the lone bright spot coming by way of an uninspiring win over an FCS team. That should sound awfully familiar, seeing as it’s nearly identical to the first third of Cal’s 2012 season.
Dykes knows that it’s going to take time for his system to operate at full capacity and that it’s going to be a while before the Bears more closely resemble a championship team than the Pop Warner squad they were last year.
But what doesn’t need to take time is dissociating from a culture that seemed to look past character issues and selfish play if the talent was there.
Dykes won’t say what the final straw was for McCain, and we will likely never know the specifics regarding his dismissal. But it’s fair to assume that McCain considered himself and his success more important than that of the team. And by booting him, Dykes made one thing very, very clear: That may have been OK under the last guy, but it’s not anymore. It wasn’t so much a personnel decision as it was a statement to his players and the Cal fanbase. He knows how embarrassing the last couple of years have been, and he’s showing everyone how he’s going to fix that.
In the short term, McCain’s departure is going to hurt Cal. The defense is lacking in both experience and talent, and McCain, despite his relatively limited production this year, could provide both. He looked poised to be the cornerstone of a unit that desperately needs one.
But in the long run, this is what the Bears need. This is Dykes’ way of letting everyone know that talent doesn’t win games by itself — and that attitude and selfishness certainly can lose them. He might not be able to immediately change the penchant Cal has for losing, but he can and will instantly change the culture.
And that’s exactly what needs to be changed within the Cal football team.