Jimmy Dykes announce his resigned as Arkansas’ women’s basketball coach Friday afternoon after meeting with Jeff Long and the team.
Dykes led the program to a first-round victory in the NCAA Tournament two years ago, but the program has steadily declined since. The team finished dead last in the SEC this year with a 2-14 record. Multiple players quit the team midseason, including a 5-star in-state recruit in Jordan Danberry, who transferred to conference rival Mississippi State.
This season kicked off in a firestorm when six players kneeled in protest for the national anthem, resulting in a blitz of outrage from some fans and donors. Dykes and Long publicly supported the players’ rights to freedom of speech and peaceful protest, but the players didn’t do it again, and some fans still refer to that incident on social media and message boards when discussing the program. There’s little doubt it had some sort of long-term effect.
Dykes was a notably unorthodox hire by Long three years ago. Dykes was a well-known ESPN broadcaster who attended Arkansas and continued to live in the area (his local friends in the media weren’t shy about lauding the hire as a brilliant example of outside-the-box thinking from Long), but he had no experience with women’s basketball and minimal coaching experience at all. The hire was a gamble that Dykes’ fame and appeal would generate more interest in what had become a mediocre program under Tom Collen that regularly drew fewer fans than gymnastics meets and soccer matches.
However, there were questions nationally from observers who wondered why Long chose not to hire a more qualified and experienced coach, especially in a women’s sport when Arkansas has among the fewest female head coaches in Division I athletics (Arkansas has two female coaches right now, Shauna Estes-Taylor in women’s golf and Courtney Diefel in softball. Two female coaches ties for the lowest in the SEC. Only three schools had one coach as of last year.). In short, this hire will not be one Jeff Long touts on his LinkedIn profile.
But now the question is where does Arkansas go to find a new coach? Two common names thrown around on social media are Little Rock’s Joe Foley, who has been successful with the Trojans, and Mike Neighbors, an Arkansas native and UA graduate, who is leading a successful program at Washington. Whether or not either would be interested in coming to Arkansas is unknown at this point.
One thing is highly likely, however. I don’t expect Long to hire someone inexperienced just to make a splash again.