BERKELEY, California — Sonny Dykes was nearly 30 minutes into a news conference wrapping up his first season at California when the Golden Bears coach was asked what he could point to as a tangible sign of progress.
Dykes was stumped for a reply, a fitting cap to a season in which Cal seemingly had no answer for much of anything.
The Bears won just one game in Dykes' debut season. Outside of freshman quarterback Jared Goff breaking the school's single-season passing record, there wasn't much else that went right.
"What was frustrating to me is that every team I've ever coached has gotten better," Dykes said Monday. "If you look at our season, it's tough to see that. That's what was frustrating for all of us was how did we improve and where was it?"
That's a question many Cal fans were asking after the Bears finished with their worst record since going winless in 1999.
Dykes, hired away from Louisiana Tech to replace Jeff Tedford after Cal went 3-9 in 2012, was expected to put the program back on track.
Instead, the Bears finished 1-11 and seemingly got worse with each week after winning their only game of the season against FCS school Portland State on Sept. 7. Cal lost its final 10 games, capped by a 63-13 blowout loss to Bay Area-rival No. 8 Stanford on Saturday.
The losses weren't just confined to the field, either. The student section at Memorial Stadium was often near empty during games, and an increasingly frustrated group of alumni was calling for Dykes to be fired long before the season ended.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy," Dykes said. "These things happen for a reason. Any time that you have issues you always look at yourself first and foremost."
Dykes isn't the only one who came under fire after Cal went winless in the Pac-12.
Defensive coordinator Andy Buh, whose unit gave up nearly 46 points a game, has been heavily criticized all season. Dykes, however, gave Buh a vote of confidence and said he expects to have most, if not all, of his assistant coaches back in 2014.
Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour has also come under fire. Barbour fired Tedford and approved a buyout of $5.5 million for the former coach, then brought Dykes and his Air Raid offense aboard in hopes of appeasing the alumni who had helped fund a $320 million upgrade of Memorial Stadium that began in 2011.
Neither Buh nor Barbour attended the meeting Dykes held with reporters two days after the loss to Stanford. But Dykes insists he is fine having Buh remain on his staff despite the outcry from fans to fire the defensive coordinator.
"We'll see how it plays out," Dykes said. "I can't think of anybody that I don't want to return. Andy knows the numbers weren't good. But he's been a successful coach everywhere he's been and he'll be successful here."
Injuries played a significant role in Cal's defensive demise.
Five players who were projected to be starters missed all or long stretches of the season.
That included defensive linemen Mustafa Jalil and Brennan Scarlett, who sat out the entire season. Safety Avery Sebastian, linebacker Nick Forbes and cornerback Stefan McClure missed a combined 28 games.
That forced Cal to reach deep into the depth chart for help, and the Bears' inexperience was quickly exposed.
"We played a lot of defensive players this year that we would have really liked to redshirt," Dykes said. "They did the best they could and they'll benefit by playing, but ..."
One player who stood out in the storm of the season was Goff.
A true freshman, Goff started all 12 games and broke the school's single-season passing record with 3,508 yards. He passed for 18 touchdowns and was sixth in the nation for completions per game.
Goff's march into Cal's record books didn't come without its hiccups. He was benched early in the Bears' 55-16 loss to Oregon in late September, then had to hold off a challenge to his starting job from redshirt freshman Zach Kline.
Kline left open the door for a transfer after he replaced Goff against Stanford.
"Zach has to do what he thinks is in his best interest," Dykes said. "We're completely supportive of that, whatever that is."
Goff may have to undergo surgery in the offseason after suffering a separated shoulder in the loss to Stanford. He underwent an MRI and was awaiting the results before making a decision.
Dykes said Goff held up well in spite of a running game that didn't provide much balance to the offense.
"When you're playing with a true freshman, you'd like to be able to run the ball probably 65 percent of the time," Dykes said. "In a perfect world that's what we would have done, but that just wasn't what we were equipped to do.
"The problem we ran into so much was we got down early so quickly in ballgames. That forced us to throw the ball a little more than we wanted to or he was ready to."
Dykes conducted a final team meeting on Monday. On Sunday, he'll fly out to begin a recruiting process that will be significantly more difficult with the Bears coming off such a disappointing season.
If Cal is to turn things around, however, that's where the Dykes has to start.
"I think it makes it a little more difficult," Dykes said. "Everything's easy when you win. We're going to have to ask (recruits) to look past this season a little bit."