Driven Dykes enjoying coaching return at Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Even Jimmy Dykes laughs when he thinks about how his life has changed in the past year.
Arkansas caught the world of women's college basketball off guard when it hired the former coach and ESPN analyst to replace the fired Tom Collen in March. It was a move Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma called ''outside the box,'' and one even Razorbacks athletic director Jeff Long called a ''non-traditional hire.''
Dykes returns to the sidelines for the first time in more than 20 years on Friday against Nicholls.
Non-traditional or not, Dykes has reveled in his move from press row back to the court. Gone are the approximately 110 nights a year spent on the road for the 15-year television analyst, replaced by the welcomed pressure of building a program that's only been to the NCAA tournament once in the last 11 seasons.
''A year ago at this time, actually the past seven years at this time, one of my biggest concerns was ... was I sitting in first class on the way to Maui, and where were my wife and daughter sitting,'' Dykes said. ''Those were my big concerns. I have a few more things on my plate now that I did at this time of the year.''
Dykes, who has never coached on the women's side of the game and hasn't coached anything since he was an assistant under Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State from 1990-91, wasn't the only surprising hire in the women's game following last season. Louisiana Tech hired 24-year-old Tyler Summitt - son of former Tennessee great Pat Summitt - after a two-year stretch as an assistant at Marquette.
Dykes was interested in talking with Tyler Summitt about possibly coming to Arkansas before Summitt's hiring at Louisiana Tech, and the Razorbacks coach has refused to use any outside criticism both have faced as motivation during his return to his alma mater.
''We've never even talked about the spotlight that was on him, the spotlight that was on me when we got hired,'' Dykes said. ''I still continue to say that's on those people. I can't control what they said. That's on them. What motivates me is myself.''
Dykes takes over a team that finished 19-11 last season, including a disappointing 6-10 in the Southeastern Conference for the second straight season.
The players have watched as the former analyst relied on his assistant coaches and a bevy of contacts across the country from his television days to help with his adjustment back to coaching, and they've been impressed with his big-picture approach.
''One of the cool things for me is he talked about other players, so you know that he hasn't been just watching Arkansas,'' junior Joey Bailey said. ''He references other players on the men's and women's side when he talks ... So, that's kind of a cool thing for me is just kind of seeing the whole entire world of basketball.''
Dykes said he's been impressed with the overall high level of play in the women's game, and he's enjoyed the ''lack of entitlement'' that he views as often prevalent on the men's side.
Despite being welcomed by his players, the accountability-driven Dykes has been tested in his first few months at his new job. He's down to nine scholarship players after two players - McKenzie Adams and Bria Pitts - left the program during the fall, and he admits the number of wins for the Razorbacks this season ''could be all over the place.''
Still, any negative thoughts Dykes might have had during his transition have been eased by his increased time at home with his family as well as the announcement of a five-player signing class on Wednesday.
However long it takes to turn Arkansas into a contender in the SEC for the first time since former coach Gary Blair left for Texas A&M in 2003, Dykes is intent on staying the course. And while proving any critics wrong might not be his driving motivation, it's clear he doesn't lack for desire.
''I'm bound and determined to get us there,'' Dykes said.