College football’s 2016-17 coaching carousel received a late surprise, as California fired coach Sonny Dykes on Sunday. Dykes went 19-30 over four years with the Golden Bears and guided the program to an 8-5 mark with an appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl in 2015. Although Dykes didn’t have an overall winning record during his career, he inherited a mess from former coach Jeff Tedford and the program showed marked progress after a 1-11 record in 2013.
With the late firing, California likely has a good idea of which coach it wants to hire. However, this program has its share of obstacles. There are budget concerns to overcome, and the Pac-12 North isn’t getting any easier with the recent improvement of Washington, Washington State and Stanford’s run under coach David Shaw.
Who might replace Dykes at California?
6 Coaching Candidates to Replace Sonny Dykes at California
Beau Baldwin, head coach, Eastern Washington
Baldwin is a bit of a longshot, but the California native is one of the top coaches in the FCS ranks and has guided Eastern Washington to an 85-32 record since 2008. Under Baldwin’s direction, the Eagles have made the FCS playoffs in four out of the last five years. Additionally, Eastern Washington claimed the FCS national title in 2010. Baldwin is regarded for his work on offense but has never coached at the FBS level.
Troy Calhoun, head coach, Air Force
Considering Calhoun coaches at his alma mater and has a good run going in Colorado Springs, it would take a lot for the former AFA quarterback to leave. Calhoun is 77-53 at Air Force since 2007 and has guided the Falcons to bowl appearances in nine out of 10 seasons. He also spent time in the NFL with the Broncos and Texans and coached as an assistant at Ohio and Wake Forest. Calhoun’s experience working at a tough job (AFA) and maximizing resources is also something that could be appealing to California.
Chip Kelly, former 49ers head coach
Kelly is likely to generate a lot of buzz for this job after he was fired following a 2-14 record as the 49ers head coach in 2016. While Kelly went 28-35 during his career as a NFL head coach, he recorded a 46-7 mark at Oregon from 2009-12. Kelly’s high-powered offense would be an excellent fit at California and the Pac-12 once again.
Ron Rivera, head coach, Carolina Panthers
Hiring Rivera from the NFL is unlikely, but he’s worth a mention in this space as a former California player. The California native played with the Golden Bears from 1980-83 before a stint in the NFL with the Bears (1984-92). Rivera joined the coaching ranks in 1997 with the Bears and made additional stops with the Eagles and Chargers before becoming a head coach with the Panthers in 2011. Under Rivera’s direction, Carolina is 53-42 and guided the Panthers to an appearance in Super Bowl 50. Leaving the NFL is unlikely, but Rivera has strong ties to this program.
Jake Spavital, offensive coordinator, California
Spavital was promoted to interim coach after Dykes was fired on Jan. 8. The Oklahoma native is a rising star in the coaching ranks and joined the California staff after two seasons at Texas A&M (2014-15). Spavital worked as the play-caller for the Golden Bears in 2016 and guided the offense to an average of 37.1 points per game. Spavital is just 31 years old and has no previous head coaching experience.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
Wilcox has plenty of experience in the Pac-12 thanks to stints at California (2003-05), Washington (2012-13) and USC (2014-15). The Oregon native played his college ball with the Ducks and has worked as a defensive coordinator for 11 straight years. After working with the Trojans for two seasons, Wilcox was hired at Wisconsin prior to the 2016 season. Under Wilcox’s direction, the Badgers ranked third in the Big Ten by limiting opponents to 15.6 points per game. Wilcox has no previous experience as a head coach.