"Do I miss any part of that job? No," Jimmy Dykes said about his old job at ESPN at his first press conference as the Arkansas head women's basketball coach. "I do not miss any part of it. I love what I'm doing now."
Dykes’ heart skipped a beat March 7 when his alma mater’s head coaching position became vacant after Tom Collen was fired by the university following a disappointing 40-68 stretch in Southeastern Conference play. Collen’s fate was sealed once the Lady Razorbacks failed to qualify for the postseason despite a 13-0 start.
Once Athletic Director Jeff Long completed his search for the eighth women’s basketball coach in school history, the name circled at the top of his list of candidates was Dykes, who had spent the last 15 years with ESPN as a college basketball analyst, and held a vast knowledge of the game on both the men and women’s side.
Dykes inked a four-year deal with Arkansas in late March and officially had his dream job. He’s faced with the challenge of bringing excitement and relevance back to the Lady Razorback program. In the midst of his own excitement, he found himself humbled to be joining a successful cast of coaches already on campus.
"I told [Jeff Long] when I shook his hand, ‘I will not let you down.’ I will not let this team down," Dykes said in March. "But I’m just a small part, and for me to be a part of a team with Bret Bielema, Mike Anderson, Lance Harter, Dave Van Horn, I am overwhelmed that Long considers me worthy. I am all in. I am all in."
Dykes has always had a special place in his heart for the University of Arkansas. It’s where he played his college basketball under legendary head coach Eddie Sutton. It’s where he ultimately met his wife Tiffany and dropped to one knee at center court in Bud Walton Arena.
"For me to uproot and leave Northwest Arkansas just didn’t make sense," Dykes said. "I said it, this is the one job in the country I would have left for."
Despite having his dream job, though, he still takes a large amount of pride in having balance in his life. Family is of the utmost importance to Dykes, and said from the get go he would not sacrifice being a husband and a father first.
He finds time to take his daughter to school each day before turning in a full day at the office. After going at it from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dykes finds a way to pick up Kennedy from gymnastics and spend an hour or two with the family before flipping the switch and getting back into coaching mode by making recruiting calls and watching game film.
The analyst’s dedication to the game is what attracted Long when he began looking for a new women’s coach in the spring. When the coaching vacancy became open, Dykes was covering the men’s SEC tournament in Atlanta for ESPN, but found time in between broadcasts to meet with Long and discuss the possibility of getting into coaching.
Within weeks, he was standing before hundreds of Razorback supporters, fans and media being introduced as the next Arkansas head women’s basketball coach.
"At the end, he was the last candidate we sat with," Long said. "He won the day. He won the show. No question."
He won over Long, supporters and a less-than-spirited fan base in the offseason, but now the real challenge comes in turning the program into a winner.
Dykes inherits a team in dire need of a spark, and one that has been to the NCAA tournament only once since 2003 in the final year of the Gary Blair era. Susie Gardner took over the Lady Razorbacks from 2003-07 but amassed a 16-40 conference record. Collen then entered and fared no better in league play, posting a .370 win percentage.
Dykes will attempt to become the first head coach since John Sutherland, who coached from 1984-1993, to hold a winning record against conference foes.
"I think the opportunities are endless for him," said senior guard Calli Berna, who is enrolled in two graduate school classes on top of basketball. "We’ve seen random people come up to him and say, ‘Hey, we weren’t really interested in the program before, but now we have season tickets.’"
Re-energizing the fan base has been a focal point for Dykes. The women’s team has long suffered from poorly attended home games, drawing just over 1,600 fans a contest last season. The largest home crowd Arkansas played in front of last season was 4,122 compared to 18,386 for the men’s team, and Dykes is trying to change that.
He brings name recognition to the table, along with an entertaining brand of basketball similar to Mike Anderson’s run-and-gun style, a complete 180 from the Collen days.
"Collen liked set plays, so we did set plays, which was very successful over his long career," senior Jhasmin Bowen said. "Coach Dykes, he likes transition play, running fast, up and down, hands-in-the-face type basketball, just real fast. That’s his game."
But Arkansas received more than a basketball coach when it agreed to terms with Dykes. The school signed a man of great faith who is also adamant about building the program with integrity.
Dykes is a very motivational person, often leaving his team with something to think about as they leave practices and workouts, Berna said. He wants his players to know he cares about them in all aspects of their lives, not just athletically.
"That’s important to me because I’ve only got one year left of basketball," Berna said. "Yes, he can impact me and help me become a better player, but he’s investing in our lives to become better people too."