Dial down early expectations for Dykes

Commentary: While hopes for an immediate turnaround will be abundant, new Bears head coach Sonny Dykes must be given time to build a sustainable winning program at California.

BERKELEY, Calif. – It all seems to line up so perfectly, inheriting a quarterback and wide receivers perfect to run his wide-open "Air Raid" spread offense. Yeah, there might be concerns about the offensive line, but those wide splits and quick throws will take the pressure off them. The schedule is difficult, but all the pieces are there for a possible bowl bid in year one.

Think I'm talking about California and its new head coach Sonny Dykes? Good guess, but wrong. That is what was written about Washington State and Mike Leach this time last year. Plenty of knowledgeable reporters, columnists, and experts thought Leach, Dykes' mentor at Kentucky and Texas Tech, could oversee an instant turnaround up in Pullman, buoyed by some solid recruiting.

It didn't happen. Quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday struggled to digest the timing and concepts of Leach's offense, while star wide receiver Marquess Wilson bristled against the approach of the new staff and quit. The offensive line was actually worse than it had been the year before, finishing last in the nation in sacks allowed and rushing offense. The defense was equally horrid.

Dykes is taking over a team with far more talent than Washington State had coming into 2012, that's for sure. Quarterback Zach Kline has all the tools to be the next great Cal signal-caller, while freshman receivers Chris Harper, Bryrce Treggs, and Darius Powe showed plenty after being thrown right into the mix. Running back Brendan Bigelow was criminally underused. Coaches liked what they saw from young offensive linemen. The defense never got to show its true potential because of a seemingly never-ending run of injuries.

But for all that promise, there are an equal number of issues lurking, not the least of which is a schedule that sets up as one of the most challenging in the nation.

There are non-conference games against Ohio State, which may well be the preseason No. 1 team going into 2013 after an undefeated first-year under Urban Meyer, to say nothing of conference road trips to Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and Washington. Each of those teams will be ranked, plus home games against USC, Arizona and Northwestern.

Dykes will need to bring in a top-notch staff and most importantly a defensive coordinator capable of slowing down the variety of explosive schemes across the Pac-12. Louisiana Tech barely played a lick of defense, finishing 116th nationally in points allowed and dead last in yards allowed.

Players will need time to assimilate new schemes, plays, techniques, and philosophies, which won't be easy against that murderer's row. There are no guarantees that Kline, though he will be a significant favorite to replace Zach Maynard as the new quarterback, can duplicate the success redshirt freshman had at Oregon, UCLA, and Stanford this past season. Cal will need some luck too, as injuries began piling up in spring practice and never relented, seriously depleting the team and further dooming Jeff Tedford's final season.

In short, there is plenty working against Dykes from the start. If Cal has immediate success in his first go-round, great, enjoy it. But Dykes is being brought in to rebuild a program that had slipped significantly in the last few years.

That means commitment, from fans and the administration. It seems like a contradiction at a time where coaches are routinely fired after three seasons, when one can even be let go two years removed from a BCS championship.

Patience isn't easy to come by, not when a talented but erratic team like UCLA can become a powerhouse just by sweeping out one staff, not when salaries are so enormous. But the number of programs that have gone from losing nine games one year to winning nine the next is miniscule. Where would Alabama and Notre Dame be now if Nick Saban and Brian Kelly were judged by their first season? Heck, remember the Oregon fans ready to jettison Chip Kelly after losing his debut at Boise State.

There's plenty to like about Dykes, and no reason to think he cannot build a winner. He has experience in the conference, a track record of developing elite players, time running a program under his belt.

Time is what he will need, so go easy on the expectations.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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