Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sonny's Replacement?

(Alas, this was written 3 nights ago but the storm took our internet and otherwise pre-occupied us as we did our best Hank Stamper imitation.  Remember Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion—English 1A, if I recall?).

As we speak, Cal’s brain trust is huddled at some undisclosed location with Wisconson defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox.  Former Bear Tosh Lupoi (nursing a hangover after Alabama’s last second loss to the Clemson Tigers) waits furtively—his future in the balance.

How do I know this? I get all my knowledge through gossip.  Everything you are about to read is pure fiction.  As Mark Twain said in his preface to Huck Finn:

“Persons attempting to find a motive in the narrative will be prosecuted; person attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

Trigger warning:  File this under “Fake News.”

Nothing will make Tosh sleep any better.  He’s at the pinnacle of his profession—the number one recruiter, for the number one coach, for the number one football program in the land—The Crimson Tide of Alabama.  It is reported he makes $1,200,000.  He was making $164,000 when Sandy was unable to properly compensate him--much to the chagrin of then head coach, Jeff Tedford.

L’ affair Lupoi was one of the most sordid in Cal history.  Here was a 29 year old young man, admired by all (voted the best recruiter of the year) assembling the oils  and brushes to allow Jeff Tedford to channel is inner Bottecelli.

And give Teford credit.  He knew how important Tosh was to the program.  He knew how exceptional Justin Wilcox was, as well.  After all, Wilcox had coached for Tedford.  That’s where he and Lupoi became fast friends.

If I’ve got this right (highly unlikely) on New Year's weekend, 2011, Wilcox was coaching at Tennessee.  That weekend Sark fired his Defensive Co-ordinator, Nick Holt, and hired Wilcox. 

Tedford was hip to Justin’s relationship with Tosh and went immediately to Sandy to try to head off any poaching of his star recruiter.

As mentioned, Tosh was making $164,000 per year.  They wanted to pre-empt any offer from the Huskies so they offered Tosh an un-asked for 10% raise.  Whoop-de-doo!  

Washington countered and Cal countered back and finally Cal couldn’t or wouldn’t match Washinton’s package which was $350,000 to start with bonuses tacked on bring the total to around $500,000.

(Remember Sandy’s famous quote,  “Well, we can’t upset the salary structure for the other coaches.”)

As a reminder:  When Tosh left that January we were rated the #5 recruiting class in the country and were in the running to be the #1.  If memory serves (which at my age it rarely does) 5 top recruits dropped us after Tosh departed—dropping us from top 5 to somewhere between 20 and 25th in recruiting class.  (Can you spell Shaq Thompson?). 

Now it’s clear that Sandy was not on an academic scholarship.  (See wanting to play the Big Game at Levi Stadium, cutting women’s sports without realizing that due to Title IX Cal was then on a different “prong,” and would have to eliminate about 180 men from their programs; her handling of cutting all five sports without letting alumni chip in to save them; to say nothing of sitting visiting teams’ fans on the 50 that one year at Candlestick and putting the Cal kids in the upper deck endzone—but who’s counting?) .

However, perhaps her worst transgression was relatively minor in its execution but major in its impact.

Allow me to digress, again.  In 2010, attempting to slow down Oregon’s hurry up offense, Cal faked an injury in a patently absurd and obvious fashion.  Pac 12 commissioner, Larry Scott demanded a scalp.  Sandy and Jeff decided to offer up the D line coach—one Tosh Lupoi.  He was to take the fall, so to speak.  

He never forgot the humiliation.  And most of us never forgot that Coach Tedford didn’t stand up for this kid and say he (Tedford) was responsible.  For as head coach it was on him—not the 29 year old.

Surprise, surprise, Sandy botched the negotiations with Lupoi and he joined his pal Justin Wilcox at Washington where he was eventually hired away by the winingest football coach in college football today, Nick Sabin.

When the peripatetic, Sarkisian abandoned the Huskies for SC , he brought Wilcox along with him to become the Defensive Co-ordinator.  After booze did Sark in at SC , Wilcox was hired away (according to Wisconsin University) for $1,450,000 in 2015—doubling his earlier Washington Salary of $750,000.  (This is for context re: what we may have to pay him).

That brings us to this week’s announcement that Sonny Dykes has been fired—after receiving an extension on his contract last year. 

He will receive a payout of some $5,800,000 for the remainder of his “extension.”

No.  Don’t ask.  It’s what Cal does. 

Tedford got $5,500,000 in severence. Keith Power, the high performance director, is alleged to have taken down $500,000 and defensive coordinator Andy Buh (who lasted one year) was owed $1,000,000 for the last two years of his contract.

I don’t have the exact numbers (sue me) but I think we’re talking over $12,000,000 in payouts to coaches and athletic department employees who are no longer with us—and (with the exception of Tedford) weren’t with us very long before they left.

(And this, according to Bloomberg News, with the highest on-going deficit of any athletic program in the country.  Gee.  One wonders why?). 

In a further digression, former Chancellor Bob Berdhal had anointed former Cal footballer and assistant Athletic Director to Steve Gladstone, Mark Stevens to replace Gladstone.  Alas, Berdahl  was leaving so he passed the torch to former Chancellor Bergeneau and he (burning to be the most politically correct Chancellor in the country) chose Sandy—the one who quarterbacked us into the athletic department with the highest deficit in the land. 

At least we were #1—in two catagories—worst grades and largest deficit (Dykes took us to #1 in worst defense—but hey--it was good enough to earn a contract extension).

Before we sum this up, a few words about Coach Dykes.  First and foremost he gets incredibly high marks for turning around Cal’s academics.  When Tedford arrived, he was dedicated to emphasizing academics in his program.  Truthfully, no one knows what happened, but at the end of his tenure we were an embarrassment.  Last.  Yes, last  academically in the country.  But that’s another story.

Not that you care, but (full disclosure) from the get-go, I was not a Sonny Dykes fan.  Well, not from the get-go—but within his first few weeks of his arrival.

His first week, he invited football alumni (even old bench warmers like moi) to an informal gathering at the Stadium.  I sat with Morton and Kapp and he had called them into his office and treated them with great dignity and respect.  We were all enthralled with this “new page” in Cal relations. 

(Morton had always wondered why, while he worked in the Athletic Department before Sandy canned him, that Tedford had never asked for his advice or opinion regarding some of the qb’s who came through the program.  Much too classy to insert himself, Craig bit his lip.  It wasn’t as if Craig didn’t have a modicum of experience, you know).

Finally, we had a coach who respected Cal tradition and the players who had gone before.

I had read how Sonny liked wine and been to the Napa Valley.  So Cindy decorated a bottle of Cab, bagged it with a ribbon and I brought it down to him (in my usual suck up mode)—and presented it to him on our first handshake.  He appeared appreciative. 

(I’m sure that thank you note just got lost in the mail).

During the Tedford days, when I had been closer to the program Cal had constantly moaned about the lack of perks for the assistant coaches.  Winery owners like Dan Duckhorn and Daryl Sattui did their best by holding Napa Valley dinners and bar-b-ques for the coaching staffs and their families—anything to help.

Following their lead, that night I told Sonny that he or any of his staff and family members could be guests anytime at our ranch out in Conn Valley where I grew up, (which is only used on weekends by my brother and my family).  With notice, he could have it for a week or just a weekend.

 It is humble, but beautiful with a swimming pool and gorgeous views.  It’s a mile from the closest people so the solitude and privacy make for a great “retreat.”  And it’s Napa Valley.  What coach’s wife wouldn’t like that?

Sonny and I would run into each other at various functions over that first year and he’d always say, “I’m gonna take you up on that offer.”  But he never did.  

And of course that thank you note got lost in the mail as well.

Soon after his arrival a great golden bear (whom you all know) performed a professional service for Coach Dykes.  Now there are always two sides to every story, but not only did my friend never get paid, he was told in no uncertain terms, “You’ll never work for anyone at the University of California, ever again.”  Alas, there are e-mails (you can ask the Russians for the details) and were I Julian Assange I understand you could read words here that would make your skin crawl).

Rather than arrive with the manners of an officer and a gentleman,  Sonny made it clear that he was doing my friend a favor and that we Yankees just didn’t know to properly treat THE football coach—and how lucky we were to be in his orbit.

Loyalty to Cal prevented the expected law suit.

So this is why there have been no Cal Fans Notes during the Dykes’ tenure.  His lack of character was just too off-putting.  However, like you, I wanted him to be successful. I wanted the Bears to win.  I wanted the program to succeed.

I didn’t want to be Debbie Downer, always criticizing and taking pot shots.  I wanted to give him a fair shot.

But I think his lack of character and poor judgment finally bubbled to the surface.

Often he’d begin a talk to alumni (he was extremely gracious and charming, BTW) by saying that the only job he wanted in the country was to coach at Cal.  Where else could you find the weather, the college community, the academics, the sports enthusiasm, combined with the cosmopolitan life and the proximity to the mountains and the wine country.

His offense was attractive to great qb’s and receivers.  He gets more high marks for recruiting those kids.  And the grade improvement was monumental. 

Yet, he appeared to spend almost every spare moment during the recruiting season lobbying for jobs elsewhere--usually in the south.  What recruit wants to hear that?

Plus he’s a protégé of Mike Leach, not exactly someone you’d want your daughter to bring home to dinner.

I do not want to exploit the terrible tragedy, which took place during spring training.  However, it appears that the investigation wasn’t as transparent as it could have been.  Some players claim they were not listened to—but I have no inside info on that.

The fight in the locker room, which left a player, concussed, and sent to the hospital; plus the fact that the captain of our team, left to go to Stanford for his last year, speaks volumes of what the locker room was like.

Football is as close to a band of brothers as one can get in peacetime.  Remember Montana saying, “What I’ll miss the most, is the locker room.”  A senior captain leaving his “band of brothers” for a bunch of strangers—at Stanford, no less….It gives one pause. 

 I could go on, but it is unnecessary.  We’ve all read the same stories about the defections and coaching snafus.

As to between the lines, the Bear raid is cute.   I’d like to give one to my 3 year old grand child.  But an NFLer reminded me that it’s bush--no Big 5 Conference team uses it (except WSU)—and that it’s bad prep (except for QB’s and receivers) for the NFL.

I won’t even bring up practically the worst D in the country—year in and year out. 

Also, as great as the O was, we might have seen a few more W’s and a few less 4th quarter losses had Sonny learned something about clock management and field position.

His sideline demeanor was an embarrassment, and hardly a good example for young men to follow.

Now it wasn't Sonny's fault that Pac 12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, has relegated Cal games to Saturday nights--but it is destroying the family-centric fan base--plus eliminating those of us who live in the hinterlands and don'w want to arrive home at 1;30am Sunday morning.

But losing football is not bring paying customers into that stadium.  And with a $21,000,0000 deficit $18,000,000 of it interest only payments on the stadium, we need every fan we can get.

So to sum up, no one fires a coach three weeks before letter of intent day (or whatever they call it these days); unless they have another option or they are completely incompetent.

My guess is they have their option.  And it’s Justin Wilcox (or Ron Rivera or Chip Kelly—or someone they have sown up).

If it is Wilcox, one of his demands could very well be that he gets to bring Lupoi along.  But working for Alabama, a program which (rather than running up debt) makes $100,000,000—may make for a tough sell.  Will Cal anti-up for Lupoi if Wilcox wants him? 

Will Lupoi come home for less?

If suddenly a committee is formed to hire a new coach we will all know the answers to these questions. 

On the other hand, with Wilcox to handle the D, Jake Spavital the O, and Lupoi the recruiting—well—one can only dream.

Were John Wilton still around, I know what the answer would be.  But the Chancellor lost him (more important to the athletic department than losing Goff) so we are on our own.

However, it’s 2017.  Maybe the Gods will smile upon us.  They smiled on the Cleveland Cavaliers.  They smiled upon the Chicago Cubs.  In the name of Mario Savio, couldn’t they smile upon us—just this once?