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December 5, 2012
Eventually, everyone is going to stop referring to Sonny Dykes as a former baseball player. And "eventually" may very well be now.
California's new head coach spent his college career as a first basemen. It's a fun coincidence. People love to point it out and it presents the opportunity for a pile of bad jokes. But that's not him.
Now, Dykes is the man in control of a major BCS program. He's the football coach with a 22-15 career record and a WAC championship under his belt. He's the branch of the Mike Leach coaching tree that had his Louisiana Tech team ranked No. 1 nationally in total offense this season.
And, in the opinion of Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, he's a near-perfect fit for the Golden Bears.
"He's a great offensive mind with lots of good recruiting experience at the BCS level and a guy who will fit in perfectly in Pac-12," Farrell said. "He will recruit skills kids very well out there and take advantage of the California talent."
Dykes' calling card is a pass-heavy, spread offense. It's almost perfectly in the mold of his mentor's. If you want to call it "Bear Raid," go right ahead. Then, it doesn't really matter what you call it. It's proven to work.
Dykes and Jeff Tedford, the man he will replace, are not carbon copies, but the contrast in philosophy isn't overwhelming. For the most part, the tools are in the toolbox. Dykes will just use them in a slightly different manner.
"To be honest, his style is very similar to Tedford's," said Rivals.com West Coast recruiting analyst Adam Gorney. "Tedford had problems at quarterback the last few years, and that's why things didn't go all that well. Some of the guys for Dykes to be successful are already there. He has a quarterback with Zach Kline. He's set at running back with Brenden Bigalow and those guys. And especially at wide receiver with the guys coming in and Chris Harper."
Dykes' recruiting ties in the West aren't obvious. He spent a chunk of his early career coaching at Navarro Community College in Texas, but any pull in the JUCO ranks will be offset by Cal's strict academic requirements. His time working as an assistant at Arizona could have more of an impact, but even so ?
"It only helps marginally," Gorney said. "I don't think he's going to have a bunch of pull from that. I don't think kids in this class or the next one know the name Sonny Dykes. It's not a national-profile name. At the same time, that could be a good thing. He's coming into Cal with a clean slate."
That clean slate won't wipe away his his past success, though. Dykes coached NFL wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Wes Welker during his time as the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech. He was the lead recruiter for Crabtree and was later named as one of the top 25 recruiters in the country by Rivals.com.
Now working in a talent-rich state with plenty of programs with which to compete, his knack for closing the deal in the living room will be tested.
"They need to focus on the west coast first and foremost and compete again with USC, UCLA and Stanford in the state," Farrell said. If they mess around too much in Texas it will hurt them, but I think they can spot recruit there."
Still, a fish out of water he's not. You don't have to squint to see the fit. Dykes isn't a renegade trying to force a foreign system into a resistant conference. Coaching changes are so rarely seamless, but this one has potential to be close.
There are certainly unarguable facts in play when it comes to the hire, and Gorney has no trouble simplifying them.
"His offense works," he said. "He's going to be up-tempo and he's going to fit right in in the Pac-12."