BERKELEY, Calif. — At the urging of athletic director Sandy Barbour, Sonny Dykes pulled out a white California cap from underneath the lectern and popped it on his head to accent his blue-and-gold tie and dark suit, drawing cheers from department staff who filled the Memorial Stadium room.
On his first day as Cal’s coach, Dykes definitely looked the part. The Golden Bears just hope he can garner the same reaction on game days.
Cal formally introduced Dykes as its football coach Thursday, replacing the fired Jeff Tedford after three years at Louisiana Tech. Dykes takes over a proud program with a refurbished stadium and training facilities, but also one that has failed to make a bowl in two of the past three seasons and has the lowest graduation rate (48 percent) in the Pac-12 Conference.
“We will turn it around,” Dykes said. “It’s going to be a long, arduous process. How many years is it going to take? I don’t know. Is it going to be next year? I don’t know. What’s the future hold? I can’t answer that question. But I do know that’s what’s going to drive us every day. Every single day we get in our car and come to work, our goal is going to be to get to the Rose Bowl.”
The decision to hire Dykes was easily the biggest one Barbour has made in her eight-year tenure.
Barbour, who worked at Tulane in the late 1990s, said she interviewed between six and 12 candidates. She said the school and Dykes have agreed to a “term sheet,” but she will not release the contract details until it’s officially signed by all parties, which Barbour expects to happen in the coming days.
Dykes also had been vetted by a search committee, and Vice Chancellor John Wilton said Dykes was the school’s “first choice.” Barbour and Wilton met with Dykes in New York on Monday in the final stage of the interview process.
“When he walked out of the room I said to myself, ‘I think that’s the guy,’” Barbour said.
More than anything, Barbour and the search committee cited Dykes’ discipline and offensive ingenuity — which has sorely lacked in Berkeley in recent seasons.
The 43-year-old Dykes had a 22-15 record with the Bulldogs, improving their victory total each year. The Bulldogs averaged 35.9 points and 452.5 yards per game in his tenure.
He takes over a Cal team that went 3-9 this past season and went 34-37 in Tedford’s final 5½ years, leading to his dismissal. Dykes inherits a roster that has some talent, most notably heralded quarterback recruit Zach Kline, who did not play as a freshman but is in line to win the starting job next season.
The new coach also will benefit from a facilities upgrade that Tedford helped engineer. Cal opened its remodeled $321 million stadium this past season that is adjacent to a $150 million on-campus High Performance Center.
“There were a lot of good jobs that were open this year,” said Dykes, adding that he interviewed for a “couple” others but declined to name specific vacancies. “This was the one I was interested in from day one.”
Dykes, the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, is known as an offensive mastermind who runs a spread system that he honed as coordinator under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. He later spent three seasons as offensive coordinator at Arizona under Mike Stoops before becoming head coach at Louisiana Tech ahead of the 2010 season.
He also coached two years as an assistant at Kentucky.
Dykes coached one of the nation’s most prolific offenses at Louisiana Tech this year with the Bulldogs leading the nation with 51.5 points per contest and ranking second with 577.9 yards per game. On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs ranked last in the country in yards allowed (526.1) and 116th in points (38.5) per game.
Dykes said defensive coordinator will be “the most important hire I will make.” He said he has four to five coaches in mind for the opening.
He plans to meet with Tedford’s remaining assistants before deciding on any changes. Dykes said he hopes to fill out his a staff by Christmas with “old people, young people, optimistic people, pessimistic people.”
“Old grouchy guys and young optimistic guys have a chance to work very well together,” he said.
Dykes plans to stick around the Bay Area and start recruiting immediately, which he admitted the Bears are “behind on” as is usually the case during a coaching chance. He held a brief morning meeting with players, who introduced themselves to him one at a time.
Players said they are excited for the coach to get to work so they can learn his system.
“It’s pretty much back to basics,” sophomore defensive back Avery Johnson said.
Cal still owes Tedford $6.9 million over the final three years of his deal. Wilton, the school’s vice chancellor, said the sides are still working on a settlement.
Once Dykes’ deal is finalized, he hopes to concentrate on what he does best: coach. He said the past two days have been a whirlwind for him and his wife, Kate, and their two young daughters, Alta (nicknamed Ally) and Charlotte (who they call Charlie).
“But I’ll look back,” he said, “and say that was the best 48 hours of my life.”