- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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New California head coach Sonny Dykes has spent the last month catching up on recruiting, hiring his coaching staff and laying the foundation for his philosophy and approach to the game. He took a few minutes to catch up with the Pac-12 blog about how things have been going since he was hired.
What's the last month been like for you?
Sonny Dykes: It's been good. It's been busy, but productive. We got a lot of stuff done and I'm feeling really good about where we are. I'm really happy with the coaching staff we hired. I like how they are jelling. I like our plan in recruiting and think that will benefit us in the long term. I feel good about our players. They have bought into what we're talking to them about. We got off to a good start this semester academically and they are working hard. But we know we have a long way to go.
What is it specifically about the staff that you assembled that you like so much?
SD: The biggest thing is the dynamic for how everyone works together. Guys have to get along. Guys have to be supportive of each other and they have to be like-minded. The worst thing a coach can do is bring in an all-star staff and bring in all these guys that have different ways of wanting to do things. Your assistant coaches have to think the way coordinators think. I think that's really important. We brought our guys from Louisiana Tech so they are all on the same page. We brought in Andy Buh and he hired a good staff of guys he's worked with in the past so we're all anxious to get rolling.
How much of a culture shock was it for the players when you guys moved in and started laying out what wanted to accomplish?
SD: I think they were pretty receptive. There is always a period of feeling each other out. They were feeling us out and we wanted to see how receptive they would be to what we were preaching. It's been good. You have to build trust and that takes some time. It doesn't happen overnight. But we have to do a good job of saying what we mean and meaning what we say. But I think our players have done a good job understanding our expectations and we have to make sure we keep setting the bar higher and higher.
How much do you recognize the rivalry with Stanford and is that game something that's high on your priority list? Or is it more a matter of rebuilding the confidence of the team at this point?
SD: I think it's both. You'd be a fool to be a coach at Cal and not understand that rivalry and what The Big Game means to Cal fans and our players. They will be a good measuring stick for us. They were Pac-12 champs and won the Rose Bowl. Obviously they are a program that's been built the right way. They recruited good student-athletes and guys who are good "program" guys. It shows you can be successful by having a long-term goal and building toward it.
Being an offensive-minded coach, I'm sure you'll spend lots of time watching opponents' defensive film. It seems like defenses in the Pac-12 are getting just as diverse as the offenses. Has the complexity of defenses in the league really taken off?
SD: Absolutely. This is an incredibly diverse league offensively and defensively. You look at the SEC and they are pretty much a two-back, power-football league. You look at the Big 12 and it's pretty much a spread league. You look at the Pac-12 and they are doing everything. Stanford plays power football. Oregon does things its own way. And it's incredibly diverse defensively. Guys are in the 3-3-5, a lot of even front teams and then probably a higher number of odd front teams than any other conference anywhere. You see a lot of different things. When I was at Arizona, I was really impressed with the level of coaching in the league. There are good, technical, fundamentally-sound coaches in this league. The level of coaches in this league are as good as there is anywhere.
Is that a double-edged sword? On one hand, it has to be fun as a coach that you are going to see something new every week and you get to game plan something new every week. On the other hand, you have to see something new every week and you have to game plan something new every week.
SD: Yeah, especially when you are rebuilding. When you have a program that is set and established, making changes from week to week maybe isn't as hard. But when you're coming in and trying to build a foundation on top of that it can be hard. But it's a great league to play in and it's very challenging.
When it comes to goal-setting, are you a long-term guy or do you think in terms of baby steps?
SD: I'm kind of a short-term guy. Our goal is to get better every day. We want to be competitive in every game. That's the No. 1 thing is to make sure our guys are playing hard and we learn how to win. Cal is a program that can be successful and has been very successful in the past. We've got to get to the point where we can't hope to win. Every time we take the field we have to expect to win and that's something that takes some time.
Speaking of expectations, people might perceive that coach Mike MacIntyre at Colorado might have an easier time because people expect it to be a rebuilding project. As you said, Cal has been successful. Do you feel like you might be expected to turn things around quicker?
SD: I think probably to an extent because of the resources we have at Cal and the history of success. They've tasted success at a very high level. When you have the resources available to you that you do, people are going to have high expectations. And you want that. That's why I'm here -- to win at a high level and do it consistently. But it takes time. We expect to be a competitive football team and win football games early. We have to stay healthy and develop depth. But that's why you come to a place like Cal because I believe it's a place where you can get stuff done.