The most disappointing thing about Cal football on Saturday wasn’t that it lost. Fans shouldn’t be surprised at this point when the Bears lose.
What was most concerning was Sonny Dykes’ comments during the postgame press conference when somebody asked him about his team’s unimpressive tackling. To summarize, Dykes talked about how the main problem is recruiting and how “the better athlete you are, the better you are at tackling.” Then, Dykes mentioned injuries and how his team practices tackling “more than anybody in college football.”
That’s basically saying the coaches are doing nothing wrong and that Cal struggles on defense because the players aren’t “better athletes.” It is wildly disrespectful to just throw your players under the bus like that and put all the blame on them.
This isn’t the NFL where coaches have to make the most out of the roster the general managers give them. In college football, it’s part of the head coach’s job to recruit players. Dykes has been the head coach for four years now. For four years, he’s had the power and the resources to recruit the players he needs to field a winning team.
There are only a few players Dykes did not recruit on the team now. More than 90 percent of the roster is Dykes’ responsibility. But on Saturday, it didn’t seem like he was going to take that responsibility. Instead, he was pointing fingers.
It’s not the players’ fault that Cal brought them into this mess.
Tackling is obviously easier if you have “better” athletes. But to basically say your players are not athletic enough to compete kind of suggests that you’ve given up, you’ve done all you can and there’s nothing you can do at this point because your players aren’t good enough. Telling people that you practice tackling a lot doesn’t hold that much weight when the results don’t indicate at all that you are running productive and efficient practice drills.
Tackling has been a problem every year, and there haven’t really been many changes from four years ago. It’s obviously a problem when the team is forced to put a backup safety against the opponent’s best receiver. But it’s the coach’s job to equip his roster with depth and be prepared for injuries. And it seems like every time a starter goes down, the excuses start piling up.
You can’t just start your sentence off with “I’m not making excuses” and then proceed to start listing out excuses.
Postgame conferences are never easy when you’re on the losing side. But luckily for Dykes, he’s had a lot of practice by now. For most of his career at Cal, he’s handled media pretty well and is realistic and honest about his shortcomings — and he didn’t blame his players.
But for whatever reason, his 30th loss with the Bears is the one where he decides to protect himself and blame it on his student-athletes. The players are simply doing their best under Dykes’ system. Their failures are Dykes’ failures. It shouldn’t be the other way around.
Dykes’ record in the past four years should be pretty self-explanatory. Cal is not an elite football program, and it has a long way to go before it can be competitive. When Dykes says his team doesn’t have a “tremendous margin for error,” it’s basically a safe way of saying his team is not good.
Unless Dykes starts making some serious changes with his coaching strategy, he hasn’t given fans a reason to believe that the program is going to rise out of the Back-12. Losses may not be fun, but they happen and they should be expected, especially for Cal. But it’s a major issue and a sign of bad things to come when the leader that everybody is supposed to trust starts shifting the blame on the ones he is leading.
Ritchie Lee covers football. Contact Ritchie Lee at