TCU is in the middle of a search for their next head football coach, and if momentum means anything, SMU head coach Sonny Dykes is the leader in the clubhouse to be Gary Patterson’s successor.
While nothing is final, there’s enough smoke at this point to assume that a fire exists. Athletic Director Jeremiah Donati told Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star Telegram that the search is in its ‘final stages,’ indicating that an announcement could come soon.
Personally, I would be shocked if Sonny Dykes was not announced as the next TCU head coach. Like I said on Friday, the announcement could come as early as the week after Thanksgiving.
So who is Sonny Dykes?
Dykes is the son of coaching legend Spike Dykes, who coached Texas Tech from 1986-1999. Growing up in West Texas, Dykes graduated from Texas Tech (who approached Dykes during this coaching cycle before hiring Joey McGuire away from Baylor), and began his coaching career in Monahans, Texas...coaching baseball.
Dykes then moved to DFW and coached football at J.J. Pearce High School before moving to Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Texas where he coached running backs and quarterbacks for two years.
Then the journey kicked into high gear for Dykes, who spent the next three seasons in three different places: first as a GA/TE coach at Kentucky, next as the WR coach at Northeast Louisiana, and then as the special teams/WR coach at Kentucky. During his time at Kentucky Dykes served under legendary head coach Hal Mumme, creator of the air raid offense.
Dykes heads back to his alma mater
After cutting his teeth bouncing around as so many coaches have, Dykes joined the staff of incoming Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach in 2000. He coached wide receivers from 2000-04 before adding co-Offensive Coordinator (alongside Dana Holgorsen) to his plate in 2005.
While at Tech, Dykes coached legendary Tech receivers like Carlos Francis and Wes Welker, and in his final game on staff for the Red Raiders, helped orchestrate the largest comeback in bowl history as Tech came back from a 38-7 deficit against Minnesota in the 2006 Insight Bowl.
In 2007 Dykes had the opportunity to join Mike Stoops’ staff at Arizona as the offensive coordinator, a promotion well-earned after a decade of working his way up the ranks. Dykes spent three seasons with the Wildcats, helping Arizona improve offensively while coaching up guys like Rob Gronkowski.
Joining the Head Coaching Ranks
Dykes got his first opportunity to lead a team when Louisiana Tech hired him in 2010. In three seasons, Dykes took the team from 5-7 in his first season to 8-4 and a Poinsettia Bowl appearance (where he lost 31-24 to TCU) the next year. Despite finishing 9-3 in his final season, Louisiana Tech was not invited to a bowl.
After proving he could handle the head gig, Dykes was scooped up by Cal to be their head coach. Things didn’t go nearly as well at Cal as they did at Louisiana Tech, as Dykes finished with a 19-30 record in four seasons, with just one season above .500. While record was an issue, Cal also moved on from Dykes due to financial woes at the university, citing that they needed to find a way to increase the number of season ticket holders.
That, paired with rumors that Dykes was a candidate for the Baylor job vacated by interim head coach Jim Grobe, was enough to cut him loose.
Dykes returned to Texas in 2017, and instead of jumping back into the head coaching waters he took a job as an offensive analyst on Gary Patterson’s staff at TCU. In his one season with TCU, Dykes helped TCU’s offense gain momentum with Kenny Hill at quarterback, as the Frogs finished 11-3 with an Alamo Bowl win over Stanford and a Top 10 ranking.
Dykes heads to Dallas
Dykes took over a struggling SMU program in 2018 and has a 30-17 record in his four seasons at the helm. Prior to his arrival, SMU had just six seasons with a .500 record or better since receiving the death penalty in 1985, and hadn’t had more than eight wins that same time span.
In just his second season, Dykes coached SMU to 10 wins. In a COVID-shortened season in 2020, Dykes led the Mustangs to 7-3, and this season the Mustangs are currently sitting at 8-3.
The Upside to Hiring Sonny Dykes
Dykes has a significant history in Texas, and has proven during his time at SMU that he can recruit incredibly well here. In just four years, he’s taken SMU from recruiting classes ranked in the low 80s, to classes in the 50s. Prior to Dykes, SMU hadn’t had a class in the top 70 in any given season since 2011.
Dykes is well respected by high school coaches in Texas and Louisiana, and would have the ability to compete for top talent in the state, as evidenced by the fact that in the ‘21, ‘22, and ‘23 classes, Dykes already has four four-star commits ready to play for SMU.
There’s also little doubt that Dykes could put together an incredible staff at TCU. His staff at SMU is top notch, with Ra’Shaad Samples, David Gru, A.J. Ricker, and Garrett Riley - all rising stars in the coaching industry.
He’s also shown that he understands how to navigate the transfer portal, bringing guys like Shane Buechele, Tanner Mordecai, Grant Calcaterra, and Reggie Roberson Jr. to the program. In fact, the 2021 iteration of the SMU Mustangs includes 15 transfers from Power 5 schools.
Dykes is also the type of coach to open a program up to the public, in a manner of speaking. The marketing around SMU’s football program has done a tremendous job of hyping up the team, in spite of its’ tragically bad recent history. People get an inside look into the program, they get to know the stories of the players, and they feel connected to the team.
If Dykes can bring all of that to SMU, he can certainly do the same, and probably even more, at TCU.
The Questions Around Hiring Sonny Dykes
While Dykes has seen success almost everywhere he’s been as an assistant or as a head coach (Cal being the exception), it seems as though there’s a relatively low ceiling on his success.
Even at SMU, a team that was in the absolute gutter prior to his arrival, Dykes’ success hasn’t been absolute. He’s never finished better than third in the AAC, and during his time at SMU he’s just 7-13 against teams with a record of .500 or better, and just 3-7 against ranked opponents.
Not to mention, were Dykes to come to TCU he’d be joining just ahead of some of his current AAC bunkmates: Cincinnati, Central Florida, and Houston. Dykes is 3-5 against those schools, and 1-3 against Memphis, another consistently decent AAC opponent.
Dykes also never managed a winning conference record in his only other P5 stop, Cal, with his best effort coming in 2015 (4-5 in conference, 8-5 overall). In those four years he finished just 1-11 against in-state rivals USC, UCLA, and Stanford, and a combined 2-6 against Oregon and Washington. He also never finished better than fourth in the conference.
In fact, Dykes has only won a conference championship once as a head coach, in 2011 at Louisiana Tech. Other than that first place finish, Dykes has finished third in conference twice (2012 at Louisiana Tech, 2019 at SMU), and fourth or worse in every other season.
Would Dykes Succeed at TCU?
No incoming head coach is a guaranteed success or failure, and truly only time will tell what kind of success the next TCU head coach will have. If Dykes is the guy, and I think he’s the guy Donati will hire, we’ll know soon enough if he’s going to turn TCU back into a winner.
I’ll say this too - there are clear cut segments of TCU fans who have their favorite potential head coach, whether it’s Dykes, Deion Sanders, Billy Napier, or Matt Campbell. Regardless of who you’re pulling for in the coaching race, it will be important for whoever comes in to have the full support of the fanbase.
TCU fans rallied around Jamie Dixon when he was hired six seasons ago, and more recently Frog fans rejoiced when Kirk Saarloos was tabbed to replace Jim Schlossnagle. Whether it is Dykes or someone else, they deserve the opportunity to prove they were the right hire before being written off.