When Sonny Dykes enters a room, he doesn't seem at all like the head coach of a major Division I program. Maybe it's his cherubic face, his easy demeanor, his aw-shucks-isms. Maybe it's just the honeymoon period. Maybe it was the pizza that came with him.
Clearly, the man knows how to win the hearts and minds of the local press corps.
But, no, that's not it. Though the pizza did help.
After his introductory press conference, Dykes's four year-old daughter Ally – clad in a blue jumper – was, to say the least, overwhelmed with the media crush. Nose red and eyes watering, she crept through the thicket of legs to find her daddy. He extended his arms to part the sea, and heaved her up into his arms, and finished his interviews with her resting on his hip.
Daughter, pizza – Dykes is both a family man, and a man of the people, as he demonstrated on Wednesday, showing a notably smaller contingent of local media – in not so many words – that he is not Jeff Tedford. His practices, his program and his coaching staff will be wide open. Spring camp, fall camp, practices during the season – all of them will be open in their entirety to both the media and the public.
"We just open the gate. Come on in," Dykes said. "This is not my program. This is Cal's program. [Fans] should be engaged and they ought to be able to check it out. It's their program."
When asked about position battles he will have to deal with come spring, he went even further.
"I owe it to every guy in that [locker] room, every alum, every student to play the best guys," Dykes said.
Everything about Dykes – especially the words coming out of his mouth -- speaks to a man not cloistered in his own cocoon, a man who wants the Cal football program – and the university community -- to be a true family.
"We don't have any secrets," Dykes said. "The thing is, people can watch our film and they can rewind it and they can fast-forward it and they can make cut-ups and they can do all that stuff, so I don't know why you wouldn't want somebody to be able to come and watch. I don't understand it."
Dykes is more Pete Carroll than Jeff Tedford, more of a sage uncle than a disciplinarian father. Much of that comes from the fact that his two young daughters – Ally and 19 month-old Charley – are his world, and he wants them to be a part of everything he does.
"I've got little ones, and I want to see them when I can," Dykes said.
"I like having my kids and my wife at practice, to hang around, get to know the players," Dykes said. "I think that's important for the players to see our coaching staff as good role models, family role models and support, that they know our wives. It's important that we create a family atmosphere where the guys are comfortable, and they realize it's not only about football. I think that's important, because we're going to spend more time with these players than we are our kids, so it can't just be football. There's got to be a relationship that supersedes football. It's got to be about what's going on in your life, where you need help. That's our job as coaches."
He's seen the bed in his office. He knows about the long nights his predecessor spent in there. But Dykes also understands balance. He wants not only to be a part of the program; he wants to be a part of the larger Berkeley community, and he has put an offer down on a house within city limits, while Tedford lived in Danville -- 40 minutes away from campus without traffic.
"I think that when you're the head coach some place, I think you need to live in that community, if you can," Dykes said. "It's important for people to see us in restaurants and shopping, and we need to be involved in the community, both in the schools and in the projects that we choose to get involved in, outside of football. I think that's important, because this is our community, and I think we need to be a part of it and embrace it -- embrace the good, embrace the bad, embrace it all."
That means even embracing the local cuisine. Dykes has already made stops at Top Dog and Zachary's Pizza, has already walked around Telegraph Ave., has already become a familiar face to fans, locals and alumni around Berkeley.
"It's been really positive," Dykes said of the fan reaction around town. "The thing that I've enjoyed doing has been going out to eat at night in Berkeley, going to Top Dog and just kind of talking to people, Zachary's Pizza, that kind of stuff, just sitting with people, talking and listening and the thing that's impressive about this place is the history."
Dykes comes from a rich coaching lineage -- from his father Spike Dykes to Hal Mumme to Mike Leach – but, despite being known almost universally for his offensive expertise, this former Texas Tech first baseman holds no allusions. He is neither haughty nor conceited, with not even a molecule to speak of as far as an air of superiority. He just sits with the local scribes, munching on some pizza, talking shop.
"This place has a remarkable history. That's what's funny for a guy from Texas, when I came to the Pac-10 at the time, how much history there was in the conference," Dykes said. "You don't think of California as a traditional, historical place, when you grow up in Texas and you think we invented football and we're the only ones who know anything about football and everybody else is an imposter and we're the only ones who have tradition and all that. Then, you get out here, and you say, ‘Wow, there's a lot of tradition here and there's a passionate fan base and there's people that have been attending Cal games for generations and families. That's been the most impressive thing for me, talking to people and seeing the passion that exists for the program. I didn't know that it was to this extent, and again, the weight that Cal carries in the state of California, you walk into an airport with your Cal jacket on, you're going to get a bunch of ‘Go Bears!' from everybody you see, which I had no idea."
On a recent recruiting trip to Texas, Dykes was strolling around a local shopping mall in his Cal jacket, killing time between an in-school visit and an in-home visit, and was struck by the amount of people who came up to him asking if he was a Cal grad.
"It's the University of California. It's the university of the state that's the sixth-largest economy in the world, so it's a pretty powerful deal," Dykes said. "That's been impressive, and it's been impressive in recruiting, the weight that Cal carries in recruiting."
What's equally impressive about Dykes is the fact that unlike Leach – who he coached with at Kentucky and Texas Tech – is completely open about injuries. While things such as wide receiver Chris Harper's offseason shoulder surgery were kept state secrets under the previous regime, Dykes will give reporters complete injury reports. As he said, he has no secrets.
"I'll tell ya everything I know on injuries that won't get me sued, because there's student privacy laws, and I am very far away from being a doctor," he smiled. "Those guys basically tell me. Our injury report is thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and really, I'm interested in thumbs-up. When the medical staff says he's good to go, then we have him and we use him, and if it's thumbs-down, I'll tell you everything I know about thumbs-down.
"I'll say these five guys won't travel, won't dress, won't go. I also might say, ‘I don't know.' We'll see. But, I'm going to tell you the truth first of all, and second of all, I don't even look at the other team's injury report. Why would you? You don't believe it, first of all, and second of all, there's going to be somebody else playing that position. It's not like there's going to be 10 people out there. Now, if there's going to be 10 people out there, then it'll be really helpful, but chances are they're going to have another linebacker who's going to play linebacker ... Whoever's replacing somebody in this league is probably pretty good, and so I don't think it's that big of a deal. I really don't."
Dykes paused, and reflected a bit on the air of secrecy that pervades college football, particularly when it comes to injuries, before continuing.
"I don't get it, though. I really don't," he said, before chuckling when asked about Leach's various campaigns of misinformation regarding injuries. "It's weird. I'm going to be honest with you, he likes cloak-and-dagger, so this is a way for him to be cloak-and-dagger. That's kind of his deal. He loves that."
Though he expressed his awe at the new facilities he presently sat in, Dykes made a point of saying that they shouldn't define who he, his staff and his players are.
"I think from a design standpoint, they did a remarkable job. It fits here. I think it's really cool and it fits. From a facilities standpoint, I mean, the thing I like about this is that it teeters the line between, it's very functional -- which is good -- but sometimes, there's people building facilities that have octagons in them for wrestling," Dykes smirked. "I think Tennessee build a facility that had a caged octagon in there. I mean, I don't know how that helps you win football games, so what I like about this deal is that it's nice, it's nice enough, but it's nothing too extravagant."
Dykes's blue-collar attitude goes beyond just the housekeeping items in regards to the program. He wants his players to trust him -- it was the first thing he ever said to his new team -- and he wants to be able to trust them, and trust that he will get every ounce of effort out of them, every day.
"I think it was well-designed. It's a beautiful place. It's functional, but it's not excessive," Dykes said. "I think what happens is, sometimes you've got to guard against guys becoming entitled in the program, and I think that that's something that is a fine line between you want to take care of your players, but you can't allow them to become entitled. If you allow them to become entitled, that's going to have a bad end to it. There's no programs in the country that have entitled players where it ends good. It's just not going to end well for that program.
"Sometimes when you're in a place like this and you have the care that these guys have and you have the resources that these guys have, all of the sudden, these guys think that this is all about them, and it's not. That's something you have to guard against."
Guarding against complacency within the program, instead of seeing enemies everywhere outside of the program, is what has defined Dykes so far. He's inviting the Cal community into his living room, and he just wants to make sure that everyone has a comfortable seat around the coffee table – a coffee table that will be located in Berkeley – a point he can't make enough.
"That way, my kids can come to practice and I don't have to drive an hour away," Dykes laughed, when talking about the house he's hoping to buy. "We're [looking] all on this side of the [Caldecott] tunnel. Now, can we get it done? I don't know, but we're going to try. We've actually made an offer on a house, and we're hoping we get it, in Berkeley. There's not much inventory on houses. They're a little more expensive than they are in Ruston."
He may be a long way from his last stop at Louisiana Tech, and his roots in Lubbock, but the Bears' new head coach is doing everything he can so that this team, this program, this community and this city are home.
Golden Bear Glasnost
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