NCAA

Dykes has ‘Rose Bowl goal’ for Cal football

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Dykes has ‘Rose Bowl goal’ for Cal football

BERKELEY -- Sonny Dykes vows to light up the scoreboard as the new head coach of the California Golden Bears. As long as those offensive assaults are accompanied by the occasional New Year’s Day trip to Pasadena, the fans will oblige him.

“Everybody’s goal in the program is to reach the Rose Bowl,” he said after Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour introduced him at Memorial Stadium Thursday afternoon. “That means you’ve won a conference championship. That’s why you coach. That’s why you play.”

With 2012 marking the 75th anniversary of the Bears’ last victory in the game, Dykes, who called the Cal opening as the job he’s wanted “since day one,” has his work cut out for him.  His predecessor, Jeff Tedford, was shown the door after 11 seasons for falling short of the objective, but the 43-year-old Texan and 2011 WAC Coach of the Year is confident he is the right man for the job.

“Building a winning program is going to be a process,” Dykes said as his wife Kate and two young daughters looked on. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. How many years is it going to take? I don’t know. Is it going to be next year?  I don’t know…but I do know that’s what’s going to drive us every day. Every single day we get in our car and we come to work, our goal’s going to be [to] get to a Rose Bowl, and not only get there, but to win it.”

After a national coaching search that lasted a little over two weeks and enlisted the services of executive search firm DHR International and Cal rugby coach Jack Clark among others, Barbour selected Dykes, who rose to prominence for his prowess as head coach at Louisiana Tech. The details of his contract were not divulged, as they are still subject to final approval from the University of California regents.

“You’ve read all the statistics. You know the won-loss record. You know he’s led prolific offenses everywhere he’s been,” Barbour said. “You know that he’s been Coach of the Year, Recruiter of the Year, Assistant Coach of the Year.

“[But] you don’t know what an incredible fit he is to lead the young men in this program—today’s young men and those who will join us tomorrow and in the future. His ‘win everywhere’ mentality really encompasses his vision for Cal football.”

In three years, Dykes reversed the Bulldogs’ fortunes as they improved from 5-7 in 2010 to 9-3 this season and a WAC conference championship sandwiched in between. In 2012, Louisiana Tech in the top 25 and led the nation in scoring offense at a clip of 51.5 points per game, utilizing an unconventional offense where the center, and not the quarterback, calls the plays.    

“What we do offensively is that we figure out who the best players are, so what we’ll do every day is rank our players by position every day,” said Dykes, who said he hopes his offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will join him in the Bay Area.

“If that means playing with seven [offensive linemen], we’re going to play with seven [offensive linemen], be creative in that way. You saw us this year at times line up with three running backs. There were times when we lined up with five receivers and no running backs. We played with two offensive tackles as tight ends. We’re figuring out who the best guys are and put them in those situations.”

Aside from one good junior year from Nate Longshore in 2006 and the days of Aaron Rodgers (2003-04), quarterback play has been a sore spot in recent years for Cal. Dykes delved into the type of player he would prefer under center.

“In a perfect world, we would have a [quarterback] who’s mobile and can carry the ball eight-10 times a game, if this was a perfect world,” Dykes said. “We haven’t had that at Louisiana Tech. Our guys have been more pocket guys, so that’s the type of play we’ve adjusted to.

“But we’re not a true spread option team. It’s not going to be [an] Oregon spread, and it’s not going to be a Texas Tech spread. We run the football a lot. I think we ended up in the top 15 in the country in rushing, and we were in the top 10 in passing, so it’s a diverse offense.”

One quarterback on the depth chart is promising freshman Zach Kline. The Danville native redshirted his first season at Cal, and Dykes knows all about him.

“Obviously, I’ve watched him, and I think he’s a heck of a player. He’s got great ability and you know, we’ll have to see how that all plays out,” Dykes said of Kline.

On the defensive side of the ball, Louisiana Tech struggled. Ironically enough, the unit finished last in the country from a statistical standpoint. Regarding the completion of his coaching staff, Dykes has set a timetable of 10-14 days to interview the remaining holdovers from the previous regime as well as prospective candidates outside the program.

“I have a list of four or five candidates I would like to talk to for defensive coordinator,” Dykes said. “In the Pac-12, you gotta have a strong defense to go with your offense. This will be my most important hire.”

New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker, a former assistant at Cal, has been rumored to be the frontrunner for the position and was asked about his status in Dykes’s plans.  “It’s a possibility,” he said.

Dykes, the son of longtime Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes, has an extensive résumé as an offensive assistant, with stops at Kentucky, Texas Tech (under current Washington State coach Mike Leach), and Pac-12 rival Arizona before earning his first opportunity as a head coach with Louisiana Tech in 2010.

Despite his recent success, with only a 22-15 overall record in a smaller conference like the WAC, questions were raised about his ability to connect with his new fanbase.

“I hope it won’t take too long,” Dykes said. “I think the key to getting people to buy in is have success, and being visible, and we intend to do both. [We will] get out there in the community, and see coaches and recruit hard, and be visible as much as we can. People like to follow a winner, so if we can have success on the field and have an exciting style of play, people will follow us.”

Dykes takes the reins of a Cal program that had risen as high as No. 2 in the polls in the first half of Tedford’s tenure, only to underachieve in recent years in spite of the influx of several nationally-rated recruiting classes.

The Bears will attempt to bounce back from a 3-9 season that included a subpar 2-7 mark in conference. Dykes, who briefly spoke to the team before the press conference, is aware of a lot of the personnel he will be inheriting. With National Signing Day only two months away, Dykes elaborated on his recruiting strategy.

“I think we need to get bigger and more physical up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Dykes said. “I think that’s an area we’re going to have to address here as we move forward in recruiting.

“I think it’s imperative with the physical play that happens in this league that you’re big on both side of the line, and I think recruiting begins for us with the offensive and defensive line. I think it’s where you build your program.”

As a result, the cupboard is far from bare. Although wide receiver Keenan Allen will depart early for the NFL Draft, more than one-fifth of the scholarship players on the roster are former U.S. Army or Under Armour high school All-Americans.

Two such players, quarterback Allan Bridgford and safety Avery Sebastian, were on hand for the press conference and commented on their new head coach.

“We’ve seen the success he’s had at Arizona, Texas Tech, and Louisiana Tech, so I’m excited,” Bridgford said. “It’s going to be a real nice fit for us. We have a lot of talented receivers.  We have very talented running backs in [Brendan] Bigelow and [Daniel] Lasco and those guys, who are big guys but are real fast…so I think we definitely have the personnel for this offense.”

Sebastian recapped the team’s first meeting with Dykes: “He was really enthusiastic about the opportunity to be here at Cal, and the opportunities that are going to be presented to the team. We’re all looking forward to the future and seeing how everything’s going to play out.”

Another major issue plaguing Cal in 2012 was the classroom. The Bears finished last in the Pac-12 in graduation rate at a staggering 48 percent. Dykes is cognizant that this number will be unacceptable at Berkeley, a school that prides itself on his academic tradition.

“What we have to do from day one is instill expectations,” Dykes said. “We’re going to expect our players to attend every class, to attend every study hall session, to attend every tutoring session, and not only attend them, but do their best.”

Dykes shared a brief part of his conversation with his new team Thursday morning.

“It’s like I told our players today,” he added. “‘You’re here at the number one public institution in the country…in these beautiful facilities with these beautiful resources, how could you not wake up every day excited?  How could you not go out there and do your best?’ So that’s going to be our challenge to our players.”

Of course, while the sagging graduation rates did not help Tedford’s case to keep his job, the product on the field sealed his fate. With renovations to Memorial Stadium and the new Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center costing the school a combined $471 million, the pressure will be on Dykes to pack the house and deliver a winner.

“There’s no doubt that playing an exciting brand of football and winning, and having that success will draw the fans,” Barbour said. “You’re going to see those results on the football field, and that’s what we’re committed to doing.”

Ryan Maquiñana covers college sports and boxing for CSNBayArea.com. Contact him through email at rmaquinana@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

 

Pac-12 to experiment with ways to shorten football games

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AP

Pac-12 to experiment with ways to shorten football games

LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-12 will shorten halftime and reduce the number of commercial breaks during its non-conference schedule this season as part of a trial program to reduce the length of its football games.

Halftime will be 15 minutes long, cut down from the usual 20-minute break. The number of commercial breaks will be reduced and they will be shorter in length, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said Wednesday.

Scott announced the initiative as the Pac-12 kicked off its media days in Hollywood. The experiment is intended to shorten ballooning game times in an era of up-tempo offenses running more plays and the increased scoring that comes with it.

"Just because metrics show robust ratings and attendance doesn't mean we shouldn't be experimenting and piloting with formats that will keep the sport attractive," Scott said. "It's incumbent on us to look at the presentation of the sport and make sure the pace of play is moving as much as possible and without changing the fundamentals of the game."

Scott did not completely dismiss potential rule changes in the future to address the length of games, saying that the upcoming experiment was part of a larger, more comprehensive review.

Scott noted that Pac-12 games have averaged nearly 3 hours and 30 minutes, more than 30 minutes longer than NFL games. Some of that discrepancy can be attributed to stopping the clock after first downs in college football, a rule not used in the NFL.

The halftime reduction could be a significant incentive to keep television viewers tuned in. Scott said up to 30 percent of the audience is lost during that break.

The changes could also have a positive effect on stadium attendance since Pac-12 fans have complained about the increase in late starts under the conference's most recent television deal. Fans might be more likely to watch a game in-person on a Thursday or Saturday night if they have a chance to get home before midnight.

For Arizona and Arizona State, which hold their early-season home games after dark to avoid the desert heat, it could mean their fans spend less time in triple-digit temperatures.

Pac-12 coaches consulted about the change did not believe it would hinder their ability to make adjustments at halftime, Scott said.

"I was delighted to hear our coaches feel like 20 minutes is more than they need from a student-athlete health and rest and X's and O's perspective," Scott said.

Scott also announced the league's plans to operate a centralized replay center, joining other conferences in consolidating its video review facilities.

The Pac-12 title game will stay at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, through 2019, Scott said. The league also has the option to hold the 2020 game in Santa Clara.

New Cal coach Wyking Jones ready to prove critics wrong amid changes

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AP

New Cal coach Wyking Jones ready to prove critics wrong amid changes

Even the most passionate Cal fan might struggle to name a single player on the current basketball roster. The team's top five leading scorers from last season have all departed. Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird moved on to the NBA, Grant Mullins graduated, and both Charlie Moore and Kameron Rooks elected to transfer.

But perhaps the most significant change is on the sideline. Out is Cuonzo Martin, who agreed to a massive seven-year contract with Missouri, worth a reported $21 million. Replacing him is 44-year-old Wyking Jones, a longtime assistant coach, who spent the past two seasons as Martin's top aide in Berkeley.

Jones' promotion was met with heavy criticism from many in the media, both locally and nationally. Skeptics believe Cal settled for the cheap option, rather than the best option. But why can't both be true? There's no denying that salary played a factor in the hire - the athletic department's financial troubles have been well documented in recent years. But Jones impressed Athletic Director Mike Williams in other areas too, reportedly acing his job interview with a detailed plan for the program moving forward. And unlike the other candidates, Jones already has direct experience dealing with Cal's unique set of circumstances.

“It's not something that you can walk into and just get a really good grasp of,” Jones explained. “It's a learning curve that, if you walk into this situation for the first time, it would take you a tremendous amount of time. Knowing who to go to when you need things, who's in charge of this, who's in charge of that, just having a familiarity of how to really get things done around here.”

Jones also discovered the challenges of recruiting at a school like Cal, where not every athlete can qualify academically. While many coaches would view that as a negative, Jones chooses to embrace it.

“In my mind, that's what makes this place special,” he said. “It's the number one public institution in the world for a reason. Your recruiting pool shrinks quite a bit, but that's okay because typically what happens is if you get a kid who has a lot of discipline on and off the court, you're not going to run into troubles on the weekends when they're in the dorms. They're usually kids who have a lot of respect for the community and other students.”

From a coaching standpoint, Jones has unquestionably paid his dues in the world of college basketball. Prior to joining Cal as an assistant in 2015, he made stops at Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount, where he also played from 1991-95. Now, after nearly 15 years in collegiate coaching, Wyking Jones is a head coach.

“I think initially it's very exciting to have an opportunity to coach, have your own program at a storied program like Cal, to follow in the footsteps of some great coaches,” he said, smiling. “But now the smoke has cleared and it's time to get to work.”

That work has already begun. As previously mentioned, Jones will have to replace his top five scorers from a year ago, who accounted for nearly 56 points per game. The Bears will count on increased production from senior center Kingsley Okoroh and junior guard Don Coleman. They will also rely heavily on redshirt senior forward Marcus Lee, who sat out last season after transferring from Kentucky.

“It's an adjustment, for sure,” Jones admitted. “But you have 13 scholarships for a reason. It's just an opportunity for the guys who are still here to earn their scholarship. It's an opportunity for them to make a name for themselves and have an impact on this program.”

Under Cuonzo Martin, Cal established itself as one of the best defensive teams in the country. Last season, the Bears ranked 18th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 63.4 points per game. Jones hopes to continue that trend while also implementing a full-court pressure defense, similar to the one he coached at Louisville, which resulted in a national championship in 2013.

“It's a process,” he acknowledged. “In year one, hopefully we can be good at it. In year two, look to improve. In year three, hope to be great at it... It's a type of defense, when you're talking about pressing, it's reading all the other guys on the court. It's never scripted. It's being able to read when is the right time to go trap, when is the right time to go switch, when is the right time to bluff and stunt at a guy to slow him down. So there's a learning curve in it.”

Jones knows there will also be a learning curve for him personally as a head coach, especially with such a young and inexperienced roster. He expects his team to be overlooked and undervalued by much of the college basketball world, but that's just fine with him.

“I think a lot of people will probably guess that we won't be very good, and that's motivation right there. That's motivation for my staff, for our managers, for the support staff. It's motivation for everybody that's a part of this program to exceed those expectations. So I think that makes for an exciting season.”