Sonny Dykes, Tony Franklin, and bringing the System to Cal football

Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Part 1 of a weeklong series on 2013's college football coaching transitions: can a coaching staff led by Southerners succeed in California?

The System was a lot of fun at Louisiana Tech.

The System got the Bulldogs a conference championship in 2011 and put up 51.5 points and 350.8 passing yards per game in 2012. The System was being coached by two Southerners, at home in northern Louisiana and more than willing to build their program on the SEC's leftovers. The System worked as it was supposed to work, at a place where it was allowed to work.

Now the Southerners have taken the System to California, out of its incubator in Ruston, Louisiana and into the cauldron of the Pac-12. Those second-tier recruits won't pass muster anymore. Those on-field clinics in its ruthlessness won't be consigned to late-night regional networks.

***

The last time Tony Franklin tried this, it didn't work out so well.

Franklin, a longtime offensive coordinator/air raid guru who learned at the feet of Hal Mumme and replaced Mike Leach when the Mad Pirate left Kentucky for Texas Tech in 2000, spent the early 2000s in the football wilderness after his one-year run as the Wildcats' offensive coordinator ended in Mumme's termination. He spent most of six years traveling from clinic to clinic, teaching his offense to every high school coach who would listen, before resurrecting Troy's attack in just two seasons.

At the end of a frustrating 2007 regular season and saddled with a plodding pro-style attack, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville made a bold move. Just six weeks before his team was to face Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Tuberville fired offensive coordinator Al Borges and hired Franklin. He gave his new coordinator eight practices to install the air raid. Auburn won 23-20, and the air raid revolution was on in the Plains.

Tuberville eventually got cold feet about Franklin's pass-happy System and shoehorned his traditional run-heavy, play action offense into the air raid. The results were horrific: Auburn averaged just 13 points per game in its first four SEC games, Franklin clashed with Tuberville's assistants, and Tuberville fired Franklin after just six games.

While Franklin had stayed aboard Mumme's doomed vessel in Lexington, Dykes had jumped aboard with the Mad Pirate and sailed off to Lubbock. Assisting Mike Leach, first as receivers coach and later as co-offensive coordintaor, Texas Tech's offense led the Red Raiders to seven consecutive seven-win seasons and seven straight bowls. In 2007, Dykes left Texas Tech to become offensive coordinator for Mike Stoops at Arizona. After a 5-7 record in his first season with the Wildcats, Dykes and Stoops reeled off back-to-back eight-win seasons, the programs' best records since a 12-1 finish in 1998. The next season, Dykes won the head coaching position at Louisiana Tech, and brought Franklin -- who had just turned around Middle Tennessee State's offense in one season -- as his offensive coordinator.

Over the next three seasons, the Bulldogs averaged 35.9 points per game. Tech's 2012 season was the air raid's finest hour: The Bulldogs were held under 40 points once, and even managed to average 47 points per game in their three losses. Tech's 59-57 loss to Texas A&M was one of the best games of the season, and served as the only resume that Cal needed.

***

The System sounds like something that Berkeley undergraduates should be protesting. What it is, instead, is Franklin's coaching camp, sold to high school coaches across the country every summer with testimonials from Will Muschamp and Dana Holgorsen.

Franklin's offense is air raid at its core, but his teams at Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee State have not shied away from running the ball. Louisiana Tech utilized a diamond formation, with the quarterback in a pistol position surrounded by running backs, as its primary power running formation to great effect. Louisiana Tech averaged 227 yards per game on the ground, 17th nationally, and managed 165 on the ground against Texas A&M. This is not your father's air raid.

The offense is unquestionably up-tempo; Louisiana Tech's 88.6 snaps per game in 2012 was second nationally, nearly six snaps ahead of Oregon and Arizona. The speed between plays, and the inability of the defense to properly substitute, is what made much of the Bulldogs' attack so effective. Dykes and Franklin enter a conference where up-tempo is already the new normal. The new guys turn it up to 11.

If there was any doubt that Cal would be running the System, Dykes' choices for offensive assistants cemented the deal. All four position coaches under Franklin -- running backs coach Pierre Ingram, outside receivers coach Rob Likens, inside receivers coach Mark Tommerdahl, and offensive line coach Zach Yenser -- are transplants from Dykes' staff at Louisiana Tech. The whole band is getting back together on the west coast.

The question is recruiting. Cal may be located in one of the nation's most talent-rich states, but former coach Jeff Tedford was commonly playing second fiddle to USC, Stanford, Oregon, and programs from outside the area. How can a staff of Louisianans possibly compete with the likes of Lane Kiffin and David Shaw for the best talent in California?

Dykes' defensive staff, led by coordinator Andy Buh, is going to be crucial to that effort. Buh, formerly linebackers coach at Wisconsin, is a Nevada alum with coaching stints at Stanford, Fresno State, and San Diego State, as well as a previous run as a graduate assistant in Berkeley. Buh's position coaches are heavy on California experience. The phenomenally named Barry Sacks comes from an 11-year run at Nevada with a previous stint at San Diego State. Randy Stewart returns to Cal after a long stay on Pat Hill's staff at Fresno State. Garrett Chacere, a Tulane grad and Southern transplant, spent three seasons on staff at Arizona. It will be Dykes' defensive assistants, and Franklin's name recognition among his client high school coaches, that will have to get Cal's new coach in the front door.

Cal's gambling on the up-tempo spread that is taking root across the Pac-12 -- in addition to Oregon and Arizona, Washington State's being coached by Leach himself, who is hinting at more of an air raid/pistol mash-up for 2013 -- and abandoning the pro-style game that Tedford and Cal's neighbors to the south like to use.

If there is a conference where it could work, it's the Pac-12, chock full of California speed and willing to test the limits. Cal is going to score points, but the System will need not just to score, but to win, if the experiment is to succeed.

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