Cal football coach Sonny Dykes wasn't completely caught off guard when Sandy Barbour's 10-year run as the athletic director at Cal came to an abrupt end in late June. Not because he sensed a change was coming, but because of the nature of the position.
"It's always a surprise when there's a change of leadership, to an extent," Dykes said. "[Barbour] was here for a long time. [Athletic directors] with her tenure aren't very common. As someone hits six, seven years, you can almost put a countdown clock on it.
"I was a little surprised by the timing, maybe, but I'm happy that she obviously landed on her feet [as the new AD at Penn State]. She'll do a great job there."
When Barbour was pushed out the door, Dykes lost a staunch ally. She hired him, she sold the Cal community on him and was professionally vested to his success. The two had a good working relationship and, by several accounts, Barbour remained confident the football program was headed in the right direction despite the monumental woes of 2013.
Without her in the AD chair, there will be change. That's only natural.
To what extent that affects Dykes' job security remains to be seen, but the common thought process when it comes to new athletic directors is that they want to hire their own coaches — especially for the high-profile sports. That's not a hard-and-fast rule, but the coaches that stick around under new administration are also generally the ones who win.
Michael Williams, a former Cal wrestler, was selected by chancellor Nicholas Dirks to step in to Barbour's old job in an interim basis as the school starts what is expected to be a lengthly search for her permanent replacement. Williams committed to the role for a year, but there isn't an official time frame for how long he'll remain in place.
"The chancellor put me in not to keep the seat warm, but to actually be the athletic director," Williams said. "I'm interviewing coaches, making coaching decisions, signing contracts all the thing that's go along with the job."
That, of course, includes evaluating where things stand with the football program, and so far Williams likes what he sees from a foundation standpoint.
"I knew [Dykes] only as a fan and I thought, from afar, he was a good high-character person. And now our relationship as colleagues has proven that that's what he is," Williams said. "He's been very open and honest with me. I've noticed that he doesn't complain. He was dealt a pretty difficult hand and you really haven't heard him complain about it.
"He's very much focused on the future, he's very optimistic. He's already made some great changes in the academic profile of our student-athletes in football, which we're pleased with."
As for how Williams will evaluate the on-field product, that's still to be determined.
"I don't have any metrics yet. For me as an observer, we'll know progress when we see it," Williams said. "I don't in my mind have a certain number of wins [that constitutes success]. If we see ourselves competing. If we see the system is working and we see some entertaining football -- those are some things -- but I don't have anything really specific."
Williams' wait-and-see approach is really the only rational course to take. Even with an improved team this year -- which Cal has to be -- that might not mean much in the Pac-12 North standings, which is as difficult a division as there is in college football. Dykes is still the same coach several FBS programs tried to hire less than two years ago, and needs at least two more seasons before the direction of the program can be fairly judged.
"I'm optimistic about Sonny and excited to see what he does on the field this year," Williams said. "Anything I can do to help him, I will."
Cal opens training camp Monday and begins the season Aug. 30 at Northwestern.