Sonny Dykes, Pro and Con
Is Sonny Dykes a coach who can win at Cal or just a coach with a freakish offensive system? The question remains unanswered after yet another Cal collapse in the Big Game but I fear that the second choice is the more likely.
It’s impossible not to like Dykes personally. We got another glimpse of his character at the Guardsmen’s Big Game luncheon last Wednesday. He confessed that he had known nothing of the Guardsmen before last year’s luncheon but he had since researched their history and was impressed by all the good work they’d done with youngsters who needed it most.
That was in stark contrast to Stanford coach David Shaw who once again stiffed the Guardsmen, sending up only a banal video message which was instantly forgotten.
Somebody at Stanford should remind Shaw of all the good things the Guardsmen do and how important this luncheon is to their fund-raising. Yes, it is hard to leave game planning in midweek to be at the luncheon but previous Stanford coaches have done it.
Ironically, this luncheon was begun by Stanford grad Dick Schutte, a close friend of mine until his death six years ago. Dick always paid for a table which was evenly divided between Cal and Stanford supporters and we had a great time bantering back and forth. Cal grad Norm Bouton has taken over responsibility for the table.
Unfortunately, being a nice guy doesn’t help win ball games. Nobody was ever nicer than Tom Holmoe but he was a disaster as a head coach at Cal. Same with Paul Wiggin at Stanford who couldn’t get to a bowl game with John Elway as his quarterback and went 1-10 in his final year. At the Guardsmen’s luncheon that year Wiggin compared me to Al Capone. He was certain that I had campaigned to get him fired when I had lunch with Stanford athletic director Andy Geiger. In fact, the subject never came up. I knew Wiggin wasn’t going to survive the disastrous season his team was having.
Without doubt, Dykes is a much better coach than either Holmoe or Wiggin, but from the start, I’ve wondered whether his offensive system could succeed without the kind of overwhelmingly talented players Oregon has. No matter who the coach is, Cal will never get so many good players at one time because there’s no Phil Knight bankrolling its program.
This year’s Cal team has been exciting to watch because of its offense but the defense has been overmatched even by lesser teams. When you’re winning games, 60-59, it pretty much tells you that nobody is playing defense.
And if you look at Cal’s wins, none of them have come against good teams. It seemed they’d beaten a good team when they beat Northwestern in the opener but Northwestern is just 5-6 for the season.
The only good team that Cal has come close to beating is UCLA and that was because the Bruins played so poorly. In the first half, they fumbled twice inside their own 25 and the Bears scored after each fumble. Even with all that help, Cal still lost.
This Saturday, the Bears play BYU and it’s impossible to predict that one because BYU has played such a weird schedule that it’s unclear whether they’re a bad team or a good one. I don’t think good is the right choice there, though.
If the Bears win, that would give them a sixth win that would make them bowl-eligible. The local bowl game, now called the Foster Farms Bowl, will be played at the 49ers stadium on Dec. 30. Bowl promoters would love to have the Bears playing in that one, especially because the final score would probably be something like 55-50. In any sport, fans like an offensive battle. Defenses don’t sell tickets.
But even if Cal does get to a bowl game, it won’t answer the question of whether the Bears can be truly successful in what has become a very tough conference with the Dykes offense.
The problem with this offense is what makes it so much fun to watch: The Bears can score so quickly, the defense gets no rest. And when you have a defense like Cal’s, the last thing you want is to keep rushing them back out onto the field.
When Bill Walsh was coaching the 49ers and George Seifert was his defensive coordinator, they’d meet at the start of the week and Walsh would ask Seifert, “How many first downs do we need to get on Sunday?” What he was talking about, of course, was keeping the other offense off the field.
Needless to say, Dykes never has that kind of conversation with his defensive coordinator. It’s not about first downs, it’s about touchdowns. But, whether the Bears score quickly or have to give the ball up, their defense is back on the field much too quickly.
Dykes points to a time during his stay at Louisiana Tech when they had a very good defensive unit, but that level of play wasn’t close to what he has to face in the Pac-12.
I’d like to think he can be successful over a period of time at Cal but everything I’ve learned about football over the years tells me that it isn’t going to happen.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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