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Cal Coaching Candidates: Sonny Dykes

We continue our nationwide search for candidates for Cal's next head coaching position. Today we look at one of the nation's top offensive minds, Sonny Dykes.

Bob Levey


Halfway through the season Sonny Dykes looked like he would be this offseason's hottest coaching commodity. The hype train has slowed slightly, but he is still poised for a step up to the BCS ranks. Though only 42 years old, he spent most of the last decade involved with some of the most dynamic offenses in college football. If Cal wants to hire Dykes, the Bears may have to fight off several other schools courting him this offseason. Interestingly enough, Dykes may be more interesting in winning than a big contract. What implications this has for his next destination remains to be seen.

Coaching Career

1994, baseball assistant (!), Monahans High School

1994, running backs, Pearce High School

1995, running backs, Navarro College

1996, quarterbacks/passing game coordinator, Navarro College

1997, graduate assistant/tight ends, Kentucky

1998, wide receivers, Northeast Louisiana

1999, special teams/wide receivers, Kentucky

2000-2004, wide receivers, Texas Tech

2005-2006, wide receivers/co-offensive coordinator, Texas Tech

2007-2009, quarterbacks/offensive coordinator, Arizona

2010-present, head coach, Louisiana Tech (record: 22-15)

Dykes changed positions constantly in his first five years of coaching and was constantly moving upward. He has been more stable over the past twelve years and enjoyed some high profile positions. He worked for several years under former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach. Under Leach he spent several years as wide receivers coach where he coached Carlos Francis, a fourth round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. He also coached receivers Wes Welker, Derek Dorris, Joel Filani, and Jarrett Hicks, all of whom spent time in the NFL.

Dykes was promoted to co-offensive coordinator alongside current WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. Quarterbacks Cody Hodges and Graham Harrell thrived under the Dykes-Holgorsen-Leach offense.

After leaving Texas Tech, Dykes continued to develop productive offenses. Despite having Willie Tuitama run the Arizona offense, Sonny Dykes helped improve Arizona's offense dramatically in 2007. During the 2008 season Arizona's offense helped propel it to its first winning season in 10 years.

After the 2009 season Dykes took over a 4-8 Louisiana Tech team and improved its record to 5-7 in 2010 and 8-5 in 2011. Dykes led LA Tech to the WAC title in 2011 and was named the WAC Coach of the Year. After a 9-1 start in 2012, Dykes lost consecutive games to fellow Cal coaching candidates Mike MacIntyre and Gary Andersen. The Bulldogs finished the regular season 9-3 and third in the WAC.

As you might expect after his stints with Texas Tech and Arizona, Dykes runs a spread-heavy offense at Louisiana Tech. He likes to line up 4-5 receivers and use short, quick throws (screens, slants, etc.). He's also fond of a diamond formation in the backfield while two receivers are split wide (you'll find it in several of the plays in the following video), from which he'll run or try to use playaction to get one-on-one matchups for his receivers.

Notable Statistics

As co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech:

  • 2005: 519.3 total yards per game (4th), 39.4 points per game (4th), 7.9 yards per passing attempt (22nd), 66.5% completions (2nd), 148.2 QB rating (13th)
  • 2006: 457.1 yards per game (7th), 32.5 points per game (32.5), 66.9% completions (6th), 144.8 QB rating (23rd), 4.6 yards per rush (24th)
    Dykes won the All-American Football Foundation's Mike Campbell Top Assistant Award

The Wildcats improved immediately under Dykes.

  • 2007: none, Arizona was a middling offense in Dykes' first year. They were in the 40s-60s in most offensive categories. However, the offense was better by 130 yards per game compared to 2006. Pass efficiency rose 32 points.
  • 2008 (Arizona): 36.6 points per game (16th), 7.7 yards per passing attempt (27th), 64.6% completions (19th), 144.6 QB rating (21st), 44.0% third down conversions (16th)
  • 2009 (Arizona): 62.2% completions (23rd), 4.8 yards per rush (18th). Dykes was nominated for the Broyles Award in 2009, given to the nation's best assistant coach
Louisiana Tech has steadily improved each year under the direction of Sonny Dykes.
  • 2010: Offense: Most offensive categories were in the 40s-80s. Passing offense rose from 91st to 62nd and total offense rose from 66th to 52nd.
    Defense: Nothing notable, 70s-90s in most categories
    Misc: 43.9 penalty yards per game (30th), 28 turnovers (102nd)
  • 2011: Offense: Most offensive categories remained in the 40s-70s.
    Defense: 3.35 opp. yards per rush (23rd), 117.37 opp. passing efficiency (26th), 6.4 opp. yards per passing attempt (21st), 31 turnovers forced (10th), 32 sacks (23rd), 32.08% opp. third down conversions (10th)
    Misc: 61.2 penalty yards per game (97th), 20 turnovers (43rd)
  • 2012: Offense: 51.5 points per game (1st), 5.23 yards per rushing attempt (15th), 153.36 QB efficiency rating (17th), 7.9 yards per passing attempt (29th), 68.5% pass completions (5th), 577.9 total yards per game (1st), 75.0% red zone TDs (6th), 10 sacks allowed (on 533 passing attempts) (9th)
    Defense (shield your eyes): 38.5 opp. points per game (118th), 4.74 opp. yards per rush (95th), 149.23 opp. QB efficiency (110th), 8.3 opp. yards per passing attempt (114th), 526.1 opp. total yards per game (124th aka LAST IN THE NATION), 49 tackles for loss (114th), 26 turnovers forced (20th), 46.32 opp. third down conversions (108th), 72.55% opp. red zone TDs (118th)
    Misc: 79.8 penalty yards per game (121st), 13 turnovers (11th)
This has been a strange tenure at Louisiana Tech. The team was mediocre in 2010 and rode a decent defense to a strong finish in 2011. In 2012 the offense took off while the defense fell off a cliff. Those defensive numbers are abysmal. This is one of the ten worst defense in the nation. To make matters worse, LA Tech was the most penalized team in the nation for most of 2012. Hopefully Dykes can hire a good defensive coordinator at his next stop.

Would He Take the Job?

He's a mobile guy who has spent several years in Pac-12 territory. He would fit in nicely with the other offensive minds in the conference. One of the biggest factors in his decision is whether he can win at his next stop. With newly renovated facilities and three consecutive top-25 recruiting classes, Cal may be one of the easiest places for a new coach to win immediately. An anonymous coach who worked with Dykes lends insight into his decision-making process.

"He won’t go where he can’t win," the coach said. "He wouldn’t take a job for $2 million if he couldn’t win or have the things in place he thinks it will take to win.He has the money to do what he wants, and don’t forget that Louisiana Tech will probably offer him more money to stay. He’s going to get some shots at head jobs and unlike a lot of coaches, it will be the chance to win, not the money, that drives him."

How Much Would He Cost?

After the 2011 season Dykes signed a contract extension through 2017 that increased his base salary to $750,000. That's good money for a non-AQ coach. Cal can obviously offer him more. As we just saw, though, money may not be the primary driver of his decision. Cal can offer him a nice salary, but he wants to be placed in a winning environment at his next job.

Cultural/Academic Considerations

He does not appear to be geographically constrained, as he has had stints in the SEC, Big 12, Pac-10, and WAC.

No one seems to mention anything about Dykes and academics, whether good or bad. Louisiana Tech's most recent APR is 946 (74th in the nation), up from 944 in 2011, 939 in 2010, and 934 in 2009.


In 2006 Rivals named Dykes one of the top ten recruiters in college football.

He has expressed enthusiasm about recruiting while at Louisiana Tech because he is in such a lucrative area. He has strong ties to Texas, as nearly a third of his roster comes from the Longhorn State. Since joining the once lowly Bulldogs, he's demonstrated the ability to get fairly good classes for a WAC school.

  • 2010: As a new coach he pulled in the 99th-ranked recruiting class, which was 3rd in the WAC. He did, however, have the highest average stars per recruit in the WAC.
  • 2011: His class was 83rd in 2011 and 2nd in WAC. Once again, he enjoyed the highest average stars per recruit int he WAC. He signed 17 3-star recruits, more than twice as many 3-stars as any other team in the WAC.
  • 2012: His recruiting class was 96th in the nation and 2nd in WAC. Once again, he led the WAC in stars/recruit.

Other Considerations

  • His teams have had issues with excessive penalty yardage. As much as Cal needs a boost in its offense, it also needs someone to instill fundamentals, discipline, and execution. Can Sonny do that?
  • It's unclear what Dykes will do with our defense. His defense was bad in 2010, solid in 2011, and awful in 2012. Hopefully he would have the money to hire an effective DC.
  • Finally, Sonny appears to have a warm, open relationship with fans, donors, media, and pretty much everyone else. An unnamed coach who previously worked with him said:

"The biggest thing he does good is the way he deals with people. He builds relationships with players, coaches, coaches’ wives, boosters, people in the community," said a source who coached with Dykes who asked not to be identified. "He will sit and talk football with a truck driver off the street. His dad was the same way.

"Sonny just gets it and understands it. He knows how to relate to his players really well. He has an open door policy with players, coaches, professors, janitors. He talks to anybody. He also wants his staff to deal with football. He stays out of what his coaches do and lets them coach. He trust his coaches to coach. And that includes defense. He lets his defensive guys make their decisions. He believes in defense, too. He’s not always had a strong defense at Louisiana Tech, but I think he had some injuries this year that hurt him. If he’s the head coach at a school like Kentucky in the SEC, he won’t write off defense."

Final Verdict


  • The man knows offense
  • Consistently gets solid QB play in his offense
  • Wants a job where he can win immediately


  • Unbelievably bad defense in 2012
  • Discipline? (Look at those penalties in 2011 and 2012)
Cal certainly could use Dykes' expertise on offense. The biggest red flag is that defense. 2012 was a terrible year for Dykes' defense; 2011 was a good year, however. Which year is the outlier? Are we willing to gamble on the defense if it means building one of the most efficient offenses in the nation? As long as candidates like Petersen and Doeren have legitimate claims of building excellent units on both sides of the ball, it's hard to call Dykes one of the top candidates.

Profiles of Prospective Cal Coaches

Boise State head coach Chris Petersen | Oregon Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich | Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren | Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco

Q + As Regarding Cal's Coaching Candidates

Former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson | Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera | Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco