Little blonde ringlets bounce with each tiny, energized step. The typical sounds reverberating from the Cal football field are those of imposing young men athletically exerting themselves. Today, Memorial Stadium houses the excited shrieks of two tiny girls, who could not be more pleased to run circles around the golden center of the fifty yard line. Since their entrance mere minutes before, Ally and Charlie Dykes quickly seemed to come to the consensus that Memorial Stadium was ripe for their takeover. Therefore, they were going to let everyone know just how hospitable they were finding it with consistently vocal updates.
Based on this quick environmental acclimation and appropriation, you might not guess that they'd moved across the country basically overnight as their father assumed the head coaching position for Cal football. But after talking with Sonny Dykes during his travel, media, and football-filled day, you might be able to guess where his girls get their unwavering energy and adaptability.
During the press conference earlier in the day, Sandy Barbour introduced Sonny Dykes by rattling off a list of known characteristics. She touched on his coaching family, his nation-leading scoring offense, and his Texan roots. Then she challenged the press in front of her to look beyond those attributes at the way in which he fits perfectly with Berkeley's intellectual and athletic prestige.
Indeed, throughout his interrogation by the various media outlets in the press conference and on the field, Sonny Dykes managed in his responses to juggle diplomacy and disclosure, enthusiasm and stoicism, brevity and elaboration. And in the few minutes I spent individually with our new coach, I saw what impressed our athletic director to hire Coach Dykes in the first place.
When I ask about academics, he tells me that a key component of his plan of action includes instilling a sort of mindfulness and culture of gratitude in his team.
"What we have to do is build an overall team that understands what opportunity they have, how fortunate they are to be part of this university. I think we're all so fortunate to be here. It's like I told our players today, you're at the number one public institution in the country, in the number one city in the country to live in, in these beautiful facilities, with these resources-- How could you not wake up every morning excited? How could you not go out there and do your very best?"
This kind of holistic view of sport is so desperately needed and notably lacking in many programs. Actually, the mental and physiological benefits of compassion and gratitude are manifold: UC Berkeley recently set aside $3 million for further research in these areas at the Greater Good Science Center, a branch of Cal's psychology department. To succeed long-term in athletics or in academics, learning how to be compassionate and grateful in team and individual environments is absolutely vital. Regardless of whether Sonny Dykes has been keeping up with this research, his statements sure seem to indicate an awareness of its importance.
His replies about personnel are equally thoughtful, but much less telling. I want to know if he will keep existing coaches, or clean house. And his diplomacy really kicks in.
"I've gotten to know some of these guys through the years, and they're really outstanding football coaches and outstanding people. So I think I would be remiss if I didn't meet with them, and see what their vision is for Cal and the future. And see how it fits." He emphasizes that "nothing is set in stone." While we are all still completely in the dark in regards to staffing after that answer, the importance I see in his responses is the respect and sincerity with which he speaks.
And while his little daughters ran and cheered and laughed their way across the field throughout our conversation, Sonny Dykes recognized he must acclimate to his new environment and position. He clearly plans to assess and fully understand that environment before shaking anything up. I ask about his air raid offense, and he redirects the focus to his new players. He smiles as one of his daughters runs by, and explains that he and his staff will "try to adjust our scheme to fit what our players are capable of doing, and not make our players adjust to fit the scheme."
Even with the most successful offensive scheme in the nation, the constant importance of adaptability in the game of football has not seemed to affect the humility or foresight of Sonny Dykes. Indeed, our new coach's knowledge and understanding of the various facets of football, mentality, and academics seem an ideal fit for Berkeley's intellectual and athletic culture.