10 Questions With: Cal head coach Sonny Dykes
Roughly one quarter of FBS head coaches are hard at work on establishing an identity at their new programs, but none of them are equipped with Sonny Dykes' catchy Bear Raid tag line at Cal. After a 9-3 season in which his Louisiana Tech team accomplished the rare feat of finishing first nationally in total offense and last in total defense, Dykes hopes to create continued success on offense while creating a new standard on defense in quest to replace Jeff Tedford as the alpha Bear.
We talked to Dykes about establishing his team's identity in Berkeley, his plans for the program now that spring ball is over and asked just how big of a deal new uniforms are anyway. To view previous installments of 10 Questions With, please click here.
1) How will you define success this season?
It's hard for me to put a number on it right now in terms of this year. Obviously in the future we want to compete for championships. We think we have enough talent on our team to do that pretty quickly. The guys have got to be able to come together as a team. We've got to stay healthy, there are so many different things that are involved in being able to make a run like that. Not a real good answer, but I think the most truthful answer I could give is just, it's hard to say. We've got to work toward getting better all the time. That's the deal. We want to be competitive in every game. That's something that they haven't been at times. They got blown out, particularly at the end of the season last year. We've got to learn how to be competitive and learn how to make plays in critical situations and just do the things that it takes to win. That's the key.
2) Do you think your players have bought in to you and your staff?
I think so. I think they have. I've been pleasantly surprised with the way they have responded. Anytime you have a coaching change it's always a difficult thing and there's always a period of feeling out and making sure that they trust you and that type of thing but I think that the more the players are around this coaching staff, the more confident I think they become in our future and the more comfortable they become in playing for these guys. I think ultimately these guys are like everybody, they want to be successful and they want to have confidence that the people that are coaching them have the right formula to be successful. It's a process. You don't just walk in and give some great speech and everybody goes 'Okay, I'm 100 percent in and I'm not going to waiver'. That's a process but I do think the guys have been real positive. They've done everything we've asked them to do.
3) How did you handle informing the Louisiana Tech assistants you weren't bringing with you to Cal of your decision?
We obviously had a really good offense at Louisiana Tech and struggled defensively. I brought everybody on offense for the most part. Petey Perot stayed behind, he's kind of a Louisiana Tech mainstay, he ended up going to Southern Miss. I think he wanted to be a little more regional. I think that most of the defensive staff knew I was probably going to have to hire a new coordinator, let him make a couple hires and then try to bring as many guys as I possibly could. That's a hard thing. Those guys are really, really good football coaches. They're very close friends of mine, we'll be life-long friends. That's difficult. The ideal situation is to take a job and bring everybody. That's what you want but the circumstances of our season just didn't allow for that to happen. Obviously those guys were aware of what was going on and I just said, 'Look, I've got to hire a coordinator go let him fill it in.' We communicated during that process.
4) How much of a priority did you put on evaluating your current roster in the weeks after you started at Cal?
I tried to do that a little bit during the break over the dead period. Just to kind of blow through, look at the tape, see what we had, get a sense for what kind of players we had, what they could do. You really do that more from a curiosity standpoint because it affects your recruiting to an extent but I've always believed you just want to recruit a football team. You want to recruit five o-linemen, four d-linemen, three linebackers, four DBs, a quarterback, running back and four receivers. The ideal is to recruit a football team and so that's kind of what we set out to do here. We were pretty successful doing it. It didn't really affect our numbers in recruiting and who we were going to take to a degree. It helped us (sign) a couple of JC defensive ends and a junior college receiver as well based on some of the things that we saw and the numbers. It didn't make that big of a difference.
5) The previous staff took some criticism for their usage of certain players. Do you pay any attention to that?
Not really. I think that Jeff (Tedford) did a great job with the program. He took over a program that hadn't been very good and made them consistent winners and built a heck of a football program. Everybody has a different method of doing things, his was obviously very successful for a long time. Ours is going to be different. You've got to be yourself and you've got to do what you believe. There's a lot of different ways to skin a cat. I didn't spend too much time worrying how people criticize other people or any of that kind of stuff. I just never thought that's productive. Our job is to give our players a chance to be successful, put them in situations where they be successful, ask them to do things that they can do well and try to not ask them to do things that they don't do well. That's coaching and I think that's the process that you go through.
6) Now that you've finished spring ball, what's your priority outside of recruiting as you head into the summer?
We've got to go back through our spring tape and make changes, make adjustments, try to figure out first and foremost where we can place guys so we can have a better sense of what they can do. The good thing is we don't feel like we're going to need to make a lot of position changes. We don't feel like we're going to need to make any wholesale changes, just a couple of tinkering with some things here or there. I think the biggest thing our players have got to do is roll up their sleeves and go to work and completely buy-in to our offseason program and work harder than they've ever worked before. They've got to work incredibly hard academically and make sure that those academic problems are behind us and become a football team. Right now we've got some good players. We've got some guys that did some good things this spring but right now I'm not sure we've got a great team. I think our guys have got to learn what that means.
7) The Pac-12 Networks are showing every spring game throughout the conference. Are you going to put any effort to viewing and evaluating those games?
Sure. We'll watch them just to kind of get a feel for what everybody else has, look at the talent, see what they're doing scheme-wise, that kind of thing. By the time we get into the Pac-12 schedule we're going to have game film and game film is going to be a lot more telling than what happens in the spring. More from a curiosity standpoint than anything else you want to see what other people are doing, what they look like and what their talent level is. I'll be checking that stuff out but like I said by the time we get into our conference schedule everybody's going to have played three games and we'll have a pretty good idea from those three games.
8) Cal has a new uniform reveal coming later this month. How much input did you have into that process?
A little bit. The design concepts were already in place but I had a little bit of input on what we're going to wear and how we want to wear the uniforms. I like the designs. I think it's neat. The uniforms were designed really like a lot of our things around here were designed. Our stadium, for example, it's an incredibly modern stadium that has a classic appeal to it and I think that's the concept we want to go for when it comes to uniform design. We want it to be a classic look but at the same time take advantage of new technologies and branding and that kind of thing. I'm not a freaky uniform guy. We're not going to try to out-Oregon Oregon when it comes to uniform combinations or any of that kind of stuff.
9) Does part of you think 'When I was growing up a uniform was uniform, what's the big deal?' Or has it evolved into something bigger than that?
I think it's like everything else, I think it means something to some players. I think it's kind of silly myself. A lot of the best programs in college football haven't tinkered with their uniforms and I don't think they have to. I think we would like to become a program is known for graduating our student-athletes and playing hard every Saturday, being successful, being tough and less known for our uniform combinations.
10) What's one piece of advice you would give to a head coach taking his first job? Did you give any of that advice to yourself when you started at Cal?
I don't think anything prepares you for being a head coach. The most important thing is to surround yourself with good people, people you enjoy working with every single day. I love coming to work every day at Cal because I work for a great athletic director, was fortunate enough to hire nine great assistant coaches and six really good young coaches that are quality control guys or graduate assistants and a support staff that works very, very hard and works together well. I think that's the most important thing, surround yourself with good people and let them do their job, support them, give them what they need and be a team. I think if you want your players to be a team, your coaching staff has to be a team. That's where it all starts. We feel like we're ahead of a lot of coaching staffs in the country because we're functional. We like each other. We work well together. We have a shared vision and there's not any jealousy or any kind of back-stabbing or any of that kind of stuff around here and that puts us ahead of a lot of other people because I think that exists on a lot of coaching staffs.