More people discussed University of Arkansas women’s basketball on social media and on-air Sunday morning than the past two decades — combined. That was the idea (well, part of it) in hiring former ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes as the new UA coach.
UA athletic director Jeff Long caught everyone off guard with the curveball, including several fans, who asked on social media if the announcement was an early April Fool’s Day gag. I talked to one national media member who covers women’s basketball daily that admitted he was stunned by the revelation (He was also very impressed). He has been tracking the story since Long fired former coach Tom Collen after the SEC Tournament last month. Not everyone was as blown away by the move and how Dykes crushed the press conference, which is so important in college athletics.
For more than 24 hours, I’ve seen the social media posts by fans and media questioning the decision. Questioning Dykes’ inexperience coaching women’s basketball. Questioning his more than 20-year hiatus from assistant men’s coaching. Questioning the hiring over “real” coaches with strong head-coaching resumes like Joe Foley at UALR and Mike Neighbors, a former UA assistant and Arkansas native, at Washington.
College athletics is a big business
and Long is a businessman, who isn’t afraid to make a tough decision. When Dykes showed interest in the job at the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament a few weeks ago, Long knew he had a candidate that had something the others on his list didn’t — marketability. What other coach could raise thousands of dollars with a charity golf tournament or celebrity gala? Dykes can. Easily. He may be one of the few women’s coaches in the entire country capable of raising money.
Long knew Dykes, a former UA basketball player and friend of the athletic department, could bring a spotlight to the program that started in Northwest Arkansas, spread to the rest of the state and maybe the country. I challenge any of those that were tossing names around comparing experience and win/loss records to produce a coach who would’ve elicited a nationwide response on a Sunday morning. I love Foley and think he should’ve been hired twice over at Arkansas, but many of those pushing his name couldn’t even pick him out in a lineup. He may well have turned Arkansas into a a winner and draw fans to Bud Walton Arena but how much money could he make for the program? This hire was clearly about more than winning.
And it’s not like Dykes is some ta
lking head. He’s smart, has coached under some big-time coaches like Eddie Sutton at major programs like Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State. The guy knows basketball.
So what that some of his own players don’t know him. I doubt if they knew any of Long’s candidates very well. Why would they? Who cares if Dykes hasn’t coached since the early 90s. He’s been around practices and coaches meetings and some of the top men’s programs in the nation. He’s a student of the game and has soaked up a lot in his television career.
And the SEC women’s game is not like it once was. It doesn’t include legendary coaches like Pat Summit or Sue Gunter. Dykes can trade wits with any of the SEC’s current coaches. He won’t be intimidated. If he loses, he’s expected to, and if he wins expect other ADs around the league to follow Long’s lead.
The other great attribute Dykes possesses is character. He is a strong, Christian family man, who knows how to relate to young people after coaching for years and serving as an athletic director at Shiloh Christian High School. The young women who come into his program will leave enriched with his strong values. They will be ready to tackle life thanks to his leadership.
Dykes is a winner, a leader, a marketer and he loves the Hogs. That should be enough for Razorbacks fans to welcome him with open arms.
The Razorbacks’ women’s program hasn’t been the same since the administration let beloved former coach Gary Blair go. He’s led Texas A&M to a national championship, and the two subsequent UA hires have been awful and not great, respectfully, and have have caused fans to care less. There wasn’t even barely a ripple when news hit that Collen was fired. Contrast that to the buzz created by Dykes’ hiring.
Arkansas is 0-2 using conventional logic to elevate its women’s basketball program. Instead of trying for a third time, Long flipped the script. It’s a move that’s going to pay off, and the same people criticizing Long and Dykes will be lauding them soon.