California has fired coach Sonny Dykes, the school announced Sunday.
The Golden Bears were 5-7 this season, 3-6 in the Pac-12. Dykes was 19-30 in four years at Cal (10-26 in the Pac-12) and 41-45 overall with the Golden Bears and Louisiana Tech (22-15).
The Bears ranked fourth nationally in passing offense and 10th in total offense, but were 125th in total defense and 127th in scoring defense.
"This was an extremely difficult decision and one that we take very seriously," athletic director Mike Williams said in a statement. "There was no rush to judgment; we wanted to be thorough and thoughtful. Ultimately, it was a combination of factors that brought us to this outcome. We are continuously evaluating our program and looking for ways to make it better — whether that's through additional academic support, recruiting, facilities, staffing, culture, leadership or anything else that can help our football program succeed. Primarily, we want what's best for our student-athletes and have a head coach in place who is fully committed to our program and our university.
"Coach Dykes clearly built up our program — both on the field and in the classroom — and he leaves Cal in a stronger position than when he arrived. For that alone, he deserves credit and our thanks. After our bowl win last season, we showed our commitment to him with a contract extension. But after looking at a number of factors after the end of this season, I felt that we needed a change of direction for the good of our student-athletes and our program."
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital has been named interim coach.
Dykes interviewed for multiple head coaching jobs after the 2015 season, despite having the contract with Cal. He was given a four-year contract extension in March and had just started the second year of that deal on Jan. 1. According to the terms of his contract, he is owed $5.88 million.
A search for a new head coach will begin immediately with the idea that a new coach could be in place by the end of the week as recruiting heats up. College football signing day is Feb. 1.
|Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images|
Cal fires coach Sonny Dykes, could Chip Kelly become a target?
We have another surprising coaching vacancy.
California announced Sunday afternoon that it had fired coach Sonny Dykes.
"This was an extremely difficult decision and one that we take very seriously," said Cal athletic director Mike Williams in a release from the school. "There was no rush to judgment; we wanted to be thorough and thoughtful.
Ultimately, it was a combination of factors that brought us to this outcome. We are continuously evaluating our program and looking for ways to make it better -- whether that's through additional academic support, recruiting, facilities, staffing, culture, leadership or anything else that can help our football program succeed. Primarily, we want what's best for our student-athletes and have a head coach in place who is fully committed to our program and our university."
Dykes came to Cal in 2013, and went 19-30 in his four seasons with the Golden Bears, including a 5-7 record in 2016. The Bears went 8-5 in 2015 with future No. 1 NFL Draft pick Jared Goff at quarterback.
Dykes came to Cal after spending three seasons at Louisiana Tech, where he went 22-15.
While the timing of the decision comes as a surprise, if you've paid close attention to the relationship between Dykes and the school, the timing is the only thing about this decision that is odd. Over the last few years, Dykes has interviewed for other jobs, including the openings at Houston (in 2014, not this year), Missouri and even at Baylor this season. As you'd expect, those interviews didn't sit well with the administration at Cal, as it always felt like Dykes had a foot out the door and was looking for something else.
But what about the timing?
Why would Cal make the decision to fire Dykes now and not a month ago? Well, there's one obvious reason that comes to mind, and it rhymes with Whip Deli.
Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was fired by the San Francisco 49ers last week, and he has since said he'd be open to returning to the college level.
It's possible Kelly could be planning to make a quick trip across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to Berkeley to do just that.
Cal might have just made an expensive mistake by firing Sonny Dykes in January
Cal made a surprising decision this Sunday, as it announced the firing of head coach Sonny Dykes.
Sure, Cal wasn’t great this season. The Bears finished 5-7 in what they figured was going to be a rebuilding year, and Dykes only went 19-30 during his tenure, an era that included the entire college career of top NFL Draft pick Jared Goff.
But Dykes almost certainly wasn’t just fired because of on-field performance alone. In the formal release, the athletic department noted it wants to “have a head coach in place who is fully committed to our program and our university,” no doubt a shot at Dykes’ well-known flirtations with other jobs, most recently Baylor’s. Dykes is from Texas and has deep ties to the region.
So a school got tired of its average coach who was constantly interviewing for other jobs and decided to fire him. That’s a potentially defensible position.
But the timing, as well as the state of Cal’s athletic department, could make this a very expensive mistake.
For one, it’s not like the fact that Dykes was looking elsewhere was a big secret. He was tied to Houston in 2014 and Missouri last season. If Cal wanted to pull the plug then, it certainly could’ve. Instead, the school gave Dykes an extension last season, making a decision to let him go later even more expensive.
And Cal might be the Power 5 school least equipped to make things more expensive. Recently, Bloomberg singled out Cal as the P5 program carrying the most athletic debt in the country, and it isn’t even close. Per Bloomberg, Cal’s athletic department was $22 million in the red and owes over $440 million in debt.
Why so much red ink?
Cal recently completed the most expensive stadium renovation ever, as its field resides near a fault line and needed extensive structural repairs. The department hoped to pay for these repairs with long-term season ticket packages, but as the team has declined, they’ve fallen short of revenue goals. The struggles with the Pac-12 Network haven’t helped, either. The department is considering a variety of potentially drastic moves, including cutting multiple sports.
Cal even alluded to the severity of the situation in its statement, adding:
Our objective is long-term financial sustainability for our department. In order to do this, we understand that investing in football is critical. We believe that this change will reinvigorate the program, stimulate lagging ticket sales and renewals, and energize our donor base.
So Cal is hoping that by spending additional money now, it’ll get a better coach, sell more tickets, and raise the money needed to cover expensive debt service payments.
Thanks to that extension, it’ll need to pay even more money. Dykes reportedly will get a buyout of $5 million dollars. Telling a student-athlete that you might need to cut his or her sport, while turning around to give Dykes millions to not coach, sounds like a difficult conversation.
Some of that buyout could be offset if Dykes gets another head coaching or coordinator job. But even if another school helps pick up the tab, the Bears will still need to pony up to bring on other coaches and likely would suffer a recruiting ding for making a transition so close to National Signing Day.
It would be one thing if Cal were targeting a massive name to replace Dykes, and even though some fans are clamoring for Chip Kelly, the two names getting the most buzz right now are Wisconsin DC Justin Wilcox and Cal Interim head coach and OC Jake Spavital. Both are quality assistant coaches, but neither has ever been a head coach, which makes the move even riskier.
If Cal is willing to make such a drastic decision, it better hope it can absolutely nail the hire. Had it fired Dykes to hire an assistant coach two years ago, it would have been cheaper and less risky. Now, the stakes are raised.