BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — The TEDx Talk that Stanford coach David Shaw gave earlier this year about turning a prestigious academic university into a football powerhouse resonated with many of his colleagues around the country. Perhaps surprisingly, even Sonny Dykes watched the presentation to see how he could use the same concepts at rival California.
"I think it's remarkably similar," Dykes said.
Shaw's message is especially relevant this week.
Seven years ago, just before Shaw joined Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford, the Cardinal were 1-10 entering the Big Game against a ranked Cal team that was 8-3. While the Golden Bears were competing for a conference championship almost every season, Shaw recalled how some believed that Stanford should drop out of major college football or lower the academic standards for its athletes if the program wanted to be competitive.
The academic-rich Bay Area programs have reversed roles now.
Cal (1-10, 0-8 Pac-12) has struggled mightily in Dykes' first season, and the football team's graduation rates are the worst among teams in major conferences. Entering the 116th Big Game on Saturday, Dykes is chasing the model that has made No. 10 Stanford (8-2, 6-2) a success on the field and in the classroom.
"Cal was up at one point. Stanford was down. Stanford's up right now. We're down a little bit. I think we know the formula," Dykes said. "It doesn't happen overnight. It didn't happen overnight for Stanford. It's a process. It's a painful one to go through sometimes, but you don't build programs overnight. It's just not the way it works. We're going to do it the right way. And when you do it the right way, sometimes it goes slow. It's a burdensome process, but we'll get there."
Shaw knows all about that process.
The former Cardinal wide receiver recalled a conversation he had with Harbaugh, who left for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers after the 2010 season, when the two started at Stanford. Harbaugh asked Shaw how former Cardinal coaches Dennis Green and Bill Walsh built winning teams, and Shaw outlined three things: a competitive coach with a lot of energy, a tough running game and a physical defense.
To sustain that success, Harbaugh and Shaw turned what had once been a burden — those high academic standards — into a benefit to separate Stanford on the recruiting trail from other schools. Other strong academic programs such as Duke, Vanderbilt and Baylor all have followed a similar philosophy: that a competitive student is also a competitive athletic — so long as they have the physical abilities.
"I think the mode was different around us at the time. People were saying it's not possible. I don't think people around (Dykes) are saying it's not possible. It's just, 'How do you get it done?'" Shaw said. "When Jim took over here, there was a faction saying, 'Hey, let's go. Let's drop down. Let's get out of (Division) I. We can't do it. It's impossible.' Which I think only strengthened our resolve. But the questions are different. But I do understand the struggle as far as putting it together to produce the right product on the field combined with what guys are going to do in the classroom."
Cal, which fired Jeff Tedford after going 3-9 in his 11th season last year, has been under heavy criticism for what has seemed like a non-stop stretch of bad news this fall.
The Bears have lost nine straight games and 13 consecutive conference games going back to last year. They are the only winless team in Pac-12 play and are 31½-point underdogs entering their season finale at Stanford, which endured seasons of 4-8, 5-7 and 8-5 before making BCS bowls the past three years.
Making matters worse in Berkeley, data released by the NCAA last month also showed Cal — the No. 1 public university in the country — had the worst graduation rate among the 72 teams in major football conferences at 44 percent. The graduation success rates represented the four-year average of freshmen who enrolled from 2003-04 through 2006-07 and were given six years to graduate.
Dykes said that while wins are still eluding his team, which has been ravaged by injuries this season, he has seen the attitude begin to change around the program off the field. He said players are being better students and better teammates and that "culture of working together is really critical. That's what makes good teams."
"We know at some point we'll get the results on the field," Dykes said. "The results are the last that happen, they just are. That's the way that football works."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP