California fired coach Sonny Dykes on Sunday because of a lack of commitment -- his, the school's and the fan base's.
Mediocrity and malaise in football is not good when an athletic department runs up a $22 million deficit and the red ink continues to bleed all over the administration's legal pads.
The seemingly instantaneous solution to all of what ails Cal football immediately sent the rumor mill into high gear, fueling Twitter and big dreams among frustrated Old Blues: Chip Kelly.
Kelly, recently fired after one forgettable year coaching the San Francisco 49ers, is obviously available and in town. While NFL folks might not think much of him these days, more than a few athletic directors would offer up their firstborn to hire him. Kelly's 46-7 record in four seasons at Oregon is what is best remembered in the Pac-12, as is his 33-3 conference mark.
While it's pure speculation -- no one has reported serious mutual interest as of this writing -- the money Kelly is owed by both the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles could offset the expense of hiring him. In fact, it could be cheaper over the next three years than bringing in another coach and staff and paying market value.
The question, though, is would the marriage make sense for both parties and would it provide more than a short-term answer?
"We want somebody who is committed to the university long-term; someone who really wants to be at Cal," athletic director Mike Williams said.
Williams offered up few details during his news conference after the firing was announced, mostly reiterating what he'd said in a statement.
"This wasn't the result of what happened on the football field," Williams said. "We evaluated the program overall."
That overall evaluation, apparently, made it seem reasonable to eat the reported $5.88 million Dykes is owed for being fired without cause and then face a national signing day that is less than a month away with a program in seeming turmoil.
The causes here aren't secret. For the past two years, Dykes has been eyeballing multiple jobs, from Missouri and South Carolina last year to Baylor and Houston this winter. Motivating Dykes' wandering eye, in part, was a challenging environment at Berkeley, which notably included a lack of funds to pay market value for a coaching staff, particularly when the stratospheric cost of living in the Bay Area was factored into the equation.
And, of course, Dykes' team was not filling Memorial Stadium seats and inspiring donors, in large part due to a 19-30 record after four seasons.
So Dykes wasn't committed to remaining in Berkeley and fans weren't showing up or writing checks. As for the administrative side of this, Williams didn't soft sell that "winning football is essential" for an athletic department's sustainability.
Said Williams, "I think what we need to do as a community is to commit to championship football. That might be the one thing we are lacking."
As for names other than Kelly that were immediately reported, more than a few sources named Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who coached at Cal under Jeff Tedford and also had success running defenses at Boise State, Tennessee and Washington, though a two-year tenure (2014-15) at USC didn't go particularly well.
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will serve as interim coach, and he could become a candidate. While we're throwing names into the air, perhaps former LSU coach Les Miles will raise an eyebrow. While he's widely viewed as a folksy, SEC-sort of coach, he was born in Ohio and was an economics major at Michigan.
It is unlikely that Cal opted to fire Dykes without some sort of idea of where it wanted to go. While Williams didn't reveal much about timing, other than his desire to make a hire "as soon as possible," he did own that he has a short list of candidates. It seems likely the search will be completed quickly, perhaps by the end of the week.
Cal recruiting is lagging and the returning talent in 2017 isn't terribly promising for a jaunt through the rugged North Division. But the right hire might energize a fan base that is desperate to get back to the winning ways it briefly experienced under Tedford. Heck, just ending a seven-game losing streak to archrival Stanford would be meaningful.
Cal unquestionably has issues. Hiring Kelly would be a seismic event in Strawberry Canyon, which wouldn't be bad because renovated Memorial Stadium -- point A for the financial problems -- is outfitted for a real one and its denizens would celebrate a metaphorical one.
But if Cal can't lasso the moon, then it at least needs to act decisively and boldly and convince recruits and boosters that its golden age didn't end with Marshawn Lynch going Beast Mode in a golf cart.