In the NFL, coaching hires most often occur after the season is largely over. Some organizations will wait until a team has been eliminated from the playoffs before making a move on their preferred candidate. This is most certainly not the case in college football. Les Miles was fired after week four of this season. Texas fired Charlie Strong the day after their last game and promptly found Tom Herman as the replacement. Oregon waited a little longer than fans would have liked by firing Mark Helfrich four days after the season ended and taking two weeks to hire his replacement. Minnesota surprised many by waiting nearly two months after the regular season to fire their coach. Fortunately, for them, they picked up a touted coach in P.J. Fleck.
The Cal Golden Bears fired Sonny Dykes today after another rough season. Dykes went 19-30 over the course of his four-year tenure. Only once was he able to take Cal to a bowl (a win against Air Force) and only once did he crack the Top 25, both happened in the same year. The Golden Bears have produced impressive NFL talent recently but it has not correlated with program success. On top of these problems, it is rumored that Dykes was inquiring on coordinator jobs at other schools. It was also mentioned that he would likely jump back to his former job, Louisiana Tech, if the current head coach, Skip Holtz, had left for another opportunity.
It is not unjustifiable to fire Dykes after these last four years. The big issue is that there are very few coaching candidates for a school that, rightfully, wants to compete for Pac-12 championships. Cal took a flyer on a moderately proven head coach from a routinely successful G5 school (for the uninitiated, the G5 are the “Group of Five” conferences: American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt). This move didn’t pan out. With that being said, the Golden Bears will likely have to take looks at other moderately proven head coaches or try and pull some in from creative sources. These are the best candidates, in no particular order.
Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
Wilcox has been tossed around in other coach openings this year but had never been a top candidate for a head coaching job. He is a former defensive back for the University of Oregon and proceeded to bounce around strong programs such as Boise State, Washington, USC, and Tennessee. Wisconsin fielded one of the best defenses in the country this year and won the Cotton Bowl in fine form. Wilcox would certainly be a breath of fresh air after Sonny Dykes and his pass-heavy offense.
Former LSU Head Coach
Les Miles was rumored to be Minnesota’s Plan B if P.J. Fleck decided not to take up the offer. He has been tied to other coaching searches in Houston and Purdue but nothing came to fruition. Miles was successful overall at LSU, winning a National Championship during his time there, and he brings a certain personality to the role as well. Cal certainly could do much worse than hiring him.
Former San Francisco 49ers Head Coach
Chip Kelly will be tied to every college football head coaching gig until he either A) takes a college head coaching gig, B) becomes successful in the NFL, or C) retires. It is not a secret that Chip Kelly hated recruiting at the college level. The idea of going to 17-year olds’ houses and begging them to play for him did not appeal to him. On the other hand, some will say that Chip has failed at the professional level and needs to return to the college ranks. I am not in the latter camp and truly cannot see Chip returning to college football. Regardless, he will be tied to this opening given his recent employment changes.
Defensive Coordinator, Clemson
Perhaps one of the least talked about coaches with all of the qualifications, Brent Venables is ready to coach Clemson in a second-straight national title game. He was voted this year’s top assistant coach in the nation and has been named in many head coaching searches for top programs such as Miami, Clemson, and Kansas State. When Venables took the Clemson job in 2012, the Tigers had just finished the year #74 in total defense. Just one year later, they were 29th. In 2014 they were ranked #1 and have remained in the Top 15 ever since. Venables would bring an impressive commitment to defense that has largely been lacking in the Pac-12.
Offensive Coordinator, California
If Cal decides that they aren’t trying to shake up the program and that their biggest concern was Dykes’ wandering eyes, then they can hire their current offensive coordinator. Spavital has served under offensive gurus Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin, and Dana Holgorsen while coaching up the likes of Geno Smith and Johnny Manziel. Cal has had no problems running an impressive offense and hiring Spavital would both allow them to maintain their identity and save some money on the side.
Despite Cal being incredibly late to the game, there are still a few solid choices out there for them to convince to come to Berkeley. Reports state that California’s Athletic Department is deeply in debt. This next move must be able to pay dividends and ensure that another costly coaching search does not happen again anytime soon.