Mailbag: Considering Sonny Dykes and Justin Wilcox; Joe Salave'a to Oregon

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To the questions!

Ken in Berkeley writes: Cal certainly wishes to continue funding the opportunities for its student-athletes across 28 men's and women's teams. Yes, not just a dozen, 18 or even two dozen, but 28 different teams mostly competing at the championship level while achieving academically as well. To do this, it needs a football program worthy of the magnificent stadium and training center it has provided for them. That said, if your employer gives you a contract extension as (head coach) and you continue being associated with HC vacancies, why should that employer and major donors think you are committed to the football program? Why should potential recruits think you are committed?

How can a program make new season ticket sales? And how can you as HC possibly fill the (defensive coordinator) vacancy with a more effective DC than the one you just fired if you seem ready to leave? Perhaps Sonny (Dykes) felt the Cal program was not able to fund the hiring of a top-40 defensive coordinator and staff to go along with a top-25 offense and his tenure would be unsustainable. But given the HC vacancy Cal has created and having an OC (offensive coordinator) who fits in well with the offensive talent on the program, isn't the best hope for Cal now to find a top-25 defensive coordinator ready to be a head coach, alleviating the need to spend as much on a DC hire?

Ted Miller: Well, it appears you will get your wish as all signs point to Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox heading to Berkeley, pending an official announcement.

But let's start with Dykes because I know how narratives go after a coach is fired. There tends to be a piling-on that I find unsavory, and often only half-true.

Dykes and Cal was never a great marriage in terms of fit. Dykes was born and raised in Texas, and his most cosmopolitan post before coming to Berkeley was a three-year stint in Tucson at Arizona. That's not to say he's unsophisticated. It's just a matter of mutual comfort zone.

Further, that questionable fit became more pronounced when the athletic director who hired him, Sandy Barbour, headed off for Penn State shortly after Dykes first stared wide-eyed at Telegraph Avenue and its colorful denizens.

Dykes is a good football coach, but his desire to become a Power 5 head coach when he was at Louisiana Tech perhaps blinded him to a simple truth: The most important thing for a good head coach to do is hire a good staff. Otherwise, he turns into a mediocre or even bad coach. Dykes didn't hire well on defense, and that became his downfall -- both in terms of staying at Cal and getting another job where he'd be happier.

Now, that doesn't all fall on Dykes. It also falls on Cal, which needs to understand that if you want to play with the big boys, you're going to have to ante up. That means paying not just your head coach market value, but also his staff. And market value means an assistant coach who gets $700,000 in Auburn, Alabama or Norman, Oklahoma, gets $1 million in Berkeley.

Go here and see where Cal stood compared to the rest of the Power 5. I'll wait. Then consider how expensive it is to live in the Bay Area.

So the big deal for Cal at this moment isn't the hiring of Wilcox, whose biggest obvious attribute is he's worked for a lot of coaches, some good, some only OK. It's making sure that Wilcox hires a great staff -- nine assistants and a solid crew of support staffers. See what Willie Taggart is doing at Oregon.

Hopefully, during the negotiations Cal pushed hard on getting an idea of who Wilcox wants to hire, perhaps even preluding their interest by telling him that he'd blow the interview if he ticks off a bunch of coaching buddies instead of A-listers.

While Wilcox's three-year tenure at USC was poor to middling, it's the only place he wasn't successful running a defense. His work this season at Wisconsin was impeccable, so Cal fans should expect significant improvement on defense, starting this fall.

That said, he's certainly no sure thing. He's never been a head coach. He's not outgoing. He's not going to charm the media or boosters. Cal fans hoping for renewed recruiting electricity will need to await announcements on his staff hires.

Of course, some of that could have applied to Jeff Tedford when he arrived from Oregon. While Tedford's legacy has been unfairly diminished by what transpired his last three seasons, that means Old Blues forget the first eight.

If Wilcox duplicates what Tedford accomplished, this won't just be a good hire. It will be a great one.

Vince in Spokane writes: Which decision affects Washington State more in the long run, QB Luke Falk returning for his senior year or the reported defection of defensive line coach -- and top recruiter -- Joe Salave'a to Oregon? I'll hang up and listen.

Ted Miller: No question the departure of Salave'a, who by all accounts is an outstanding defensive coach and recruiter.

It's possible, however, that both needed to make the choices they did.

Falk didn't look like an NFL quarterback late in the season, particularly in the bowl-game loss to Minnesota. The Cougars have good talent coming back on both sides of the ball, so Falk should have an opportunity to make a better impression in 2017.

Salave'a probably wants to move up in the coaching world, and a lot of times that means you have to move on, bucking up a resume for a coordinator job and perhaps head-coaching consideration down the road.

Oregon -- take note, Cal fans -- also made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

Tom writes: If you were advising teams on how to put together a nonconference schedule, what would you say? Does it matter whether you think the team will be good or bad? Is there ever a reason to schedule an FCS team? Home vs. road?

Ted Miller: I've answered this before, but it's worth a revisit.

The formula is simple: A, B, C.

You play one A-list foe. That, in general, means a Power 5 team. But, obviously, there's a wide range of quality within that category. If you envision your program as being a top-25 team or a national contender, you need to schedule a legitimate brand name.

The good news is that if you, say, schedule Michigan or Alabama or Florida State, the other two games are irrelevant. Go ahead and play an FCS team and a low-level Group of 5 team.

But if you're playing, say, Indiana or NC State or Texas Tech, you need to play a legit "B." That would be a Memphis, Western Kentucky or even BYU, always a dangerous choice.

As for home or road, some Pac-12 teams have the leverage to force a home-and-home game contract. Some don't. In the latter case, it's probably a good idea to push for a neutral-site game instead of merely making a cross-country road trip for the game check.