So what about that Sonny Dykes? Q&A with Arizona Desert Swarm

Christian Petersen

New Cal head football coach Sonny Dykes is new to the Pac-12, but he is familiar with the old Pac-10, from his days as offensive coordinator of the Arizona Wildcats. The Arizona Desert Swarm blog gives us the lowdown on their experience with Coach Dykes.

Sonny Dykes' stint as Cal head football coach is not even a week old. But we're not completely in the dark about who he is. Even if you're not a follower of Louisiana Tech football (where Dykes was the head coach for the last three seasons), you might remember some of Dykes' best work. Dykes was the offensive coordinator at Arizona under head coach Mike Stoops from 2007 to 2009. Under Dykes' tutelage, the Arizona offense became a much more formidable unit than it had been previously. We asked our friends at Arizona Desert Swarm, the Wildcats' SB Nation blog, some questions about their experience with Coach Dykes as their offensive coordinator. Arizona Desert Swarm's Kevin Zimmerman and Kyle Kensing provided us with answers.

1) What's the overall feeling for the Dykes' era at Arizona? Was he admired? Beloved?

Kevin Zimmerman: I'm not sure he gets as much credit as I think he should, but I'm in the boat that believes Dykes' offense doubled the length of Mike Stoops' time in Tucson. He definitely got some talented guys in the offense (Nick Foles, Juron Criner, etc.) and used them well. And most importantly, once he left, there was a considerable drop-off that really was a big part of last year's struggles for Arizona.

Kyle Kensing: Sonny Dykes transformed Arizona. UA was never an offensively proficient team in the Dick Tomey years, save '98, and Mike Canales' pro style approach the first few seasons under Mike Stoops just wasn't effective. Dykes installing the spread made Arizona exciting. There's no coincidence that the two leading passers in program history both played in his system. Had he not left for La. Tech, there's a strong possibility 2010 and 2011 go much better, and I think most Wildcat fans recognize that. I think it wouldn't be overzealous to call him beloved. Perhaps my own opinion impacts my answer, but his contributions to the program were tremendous.

2) What stands out most in your mind when you think of Dykes' offense? Are there certain plays or formations make you grimace? Did you feel like your team was well-prepared for the opposing defense?

Kevin Zimmerman: To answer the last question quickly, Dykes left at the same time Mark Stoops (now of Kentucky) left the D-coordinator position, and both sides of the ball dropped off significantly thereafter. But during Dykes' tenure, Arizona had some pretty good defenses (now, sometimes they just didn't show up, which may or may not have been because they played against that spread offense. But who really knows?).

Anyway, Dykes' system was pass-happy, but I thought he did a pretty good job with the run calls. If there were any complaints, it would've been in how many screen passes the Air Raid uses, but Dykes will end up countering those with, essentially, that the screens act as runs -- that helps stretch the defense for the runs and then bait the DBs for long balls.

Kyle Kensing: The balance is what stands out most in my mind. Though he's known for a passing attack, that's a bit misleading. He's not a Mike Leach; UA thrived in '08 and '09 when Willie Tuitama and Nick Foles were tossing around, but Nic Grigsby was seeing a substantial workload in the run game. If there's something about his play calling that made me grimace, it was his fondness for the bubble screen. I like the bubble screen a few times a game, but UA would run it on every possession.

3) How was Dykes' at making in-game and halftime adjustments?

Kevin Zimmerman: I'd say decent, though not great. The Air Raid sometimes looks extremely against good defensive teams (cough-Holiday-Bowl-against-Nebraska-cough) but in the Pac-12 it usually didn't do horribly. While adjustments to my non-great football eye looked limited, I did think Dykes was a good play caller within the game plan. Most memorably, there was a 3rd-and-17 play late in a game against Stanford a few years back where he called a draw to an injured RB Nic Grigsby that turned into like a 50 yard score. Ballsy, but turned out very well.

Kyle Kensing: One of the greatest comebacks in UA history was the Wildcats' win over Stanford in 2009. Arizona could get nothing going in the first half, but in the second the playbook looked more open to Nick Foles. A heavy dose of Foles set up the game-changing play, which was a draw play touchdown rush from midfield by Grigsby. Dykes' teams at La. Tech this season had similar second half resurgences. Texas A&M was housing La. Tech, but in the second half he adjusted beautifully. Same for the Utah State game.

4) What's your sense of how Dykes' developed players and fit them into his scheme? Did you see changes in the offense to take advantage of individual strengths?

Kevin Zimmerman: I think it's more that the offense is good for plugging in any type of talent and allowing that talent to succeed. While the offense uses spread, big linemen and generally calls for smaller backs, Nic Grigsby was a game-changing back that was solid outside of his injury problems. But Dykes' offense also used Keola Antolin, a small straightahead speedster. For receivers, Dykes had a small inside receiver in Mike Thomas who broke the Pac-12 receptions mark, then had outside receiver Juron Criner have more success. And if anything, Criner was pretty much an unknown recruit (he was a hoopster) who the coaching staff developed.

Kyle Kensing: A reason I like Dykes so much is that he does seem to build around his talent more than forcing guys to conform. That aforementioned balance in the pass-rush is a testament to that, and at Arizona, he made great use of Grigsby (a prototype feature back) and Keola Antolin, a faster back.

5) The Air Raid isn't known for using a tight end much. But it sure seemed like Rob Gronkowski did well. How did Dykes' change his offense to include and feature the tight end?

Kevin Zimmerman: Think this helps answer the last question as well. Gronk was simply plugged in in place of a fourth receiver a lot of the time. He was used a lot in the flats for 7-8 yard gains but obviously had the speed and skill to be sent downfield a lot of the time as well.

Kyle Kensing: Rob Gronkowski was such a transcendent talent, he worked effectively as a downfield receiver. He wasn't exactly the prototypical tight end, so he fit the system more than any major concessions being made to how the scheme was run. That said, in '09 Dykes did make use of AJ Simmons in 2009; obviously not to the same extent, but Simmons would chip-block and run shallow routes.

6) How was Dykes' as a recruiter?

Kevin Zimmerman: I don't think the star ratings and all that were that great, and I can't tell you how good he is as an individual. I will say, however, that the offense alone attracts talent, more than I think Arizona has seen in a long, long time. Even this year, you saw guys (RB Ka'Deem Carey, QB Matt Scott, WR Austin Hill) who were recruited for the Air Raid looking stellar in RichRod's very different spread.

Kyle Kensing: Dykes' recruiting at La. Tech was outstanding. He established a pipeline into California, which I think is particularly commendable for a coach in Ruston, La.


7) How was Dykes' relationships with his players? Was he more of a hands-on type of coach, or a hands-off X's and O's type? Is he a dynamic, fiery speeches guy, or more even-keeled?

Kevin Zimmerman: Hard to say because my only experience was watching summer practices where everyone is yelling at everyone else (such is football). And if I remember correctly, Dykes as an O-coordinator coached from the box -- that or the Stoops bros' crazy antics drew my eye away from his sideline behavior. Anyway, I'd guess that he was well-liked by players, as was most of that coaching staff. In interviews, he was always a very calm, confident guy, but less gruff than the likes of Stoops.

Kyle Kensing: I found Dykes to be a strange fit on the Arizona staff because he was so much less combustible than the Stoops Bros. I never saw anything from him at La. Tech to suggest otherwise.

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So there's the Arizona Desert Swarm view on Sonny Dykes. What do you think? Share in the comments.

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