DALLAS (AP) — Sonny Dykes didn’t even have to finish the story of his favorite SMU memory to stir some in the crowd who showed up to greet the Mustangs’ new coach.
All he had to say was 1982, Lubbock and Texas Tech — and never mind that the thrilling SMU win on a last-second kickoff return was at the expense of the school that would later become the longtime coaching home of Dykes’ late dad, Spike Dykes, and his alma mater.
How all of that came about explains better than anything why Dykes considers it a homecoming to replace Chad Morris on the Hilltop, even though he had already been back in his home state — and the Dallas-Fort Worth area — for a year.
“I always loved this place,” Dykes said after his introductory celebration Tuesday. “I always thought this was a program that had a tremendous amount of potential. The road of a college football coach, you just end up in some places you never think you’re going to end up in.”
The 48-year-old Dykes is back as a head coach a year after he was fired at Cal, having spent the past season as an offensive consultant under Gary Patterson at TCU.
He will coach SMU (7-5) in the Frisco Bowl near Dallas next week against Louisiana Tech, which he turned around before taking the Cal job and doing the same thing. Morris left after three seasons for Arkansas.
Dykes was 13 when his dad, then a high school coach, asked his son what he wanted for his birthday. Enamored by the Pony Express of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, Dykes’ answer was tickets to an SMU game, so the two small-town West Texas natives made the trip to Lubbock.
Texas Tech had just pulled even on a field goal with 17 seconds left when Bobby Leach took a long lateral on the kickoff and ran untouched 91 yards up the sideline for a 34-27 win during SMU’s 11-0-1 season.
“There’s a picture somewhere of the pile of SMU players in that end zone celebrating,” said Dykes, whose first coaching job was at a Dallas-area high school. “I can promise you there’s a 13-year-old kid in the background celebrating with them somewhere.”
Two years later, Spike Dykes joined the Texas Tech staff as an assistant, and two years after that became the head coach, staying for 13 full seasons. The younger Dykes graduated from Texas Tech in 1993 and played baseball for a couple of seasons.
Sonny Dykes soon followed his dad into the coaching business, and now has become a college head coach in Texas the same year Spike Dykes died at age 79.
“It’s been a hard year for me,” Sonny Dykes said. “Coaching in the state of Texas and growing up in the state of Texas meant so much to him and the relationships that he had. I had an opportunity to learn from him. It’s really been a blessing just to be back in the state.”
Dykes, who was an assistant at Texas Tech after his dad retired, took Louisiana Tech from 4-8 the year before he arrived to 9-3 in the last of three seasons in 2012, which led to a similar turnaround at Cal.
The Bears went 8-5 in 2015 behind quarterback Jared Goff, but slipped to 5-7 after Goff skipped his senior season and became the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Dykes was fired after his fourth season.
“He’s a proven coach,” athletic director Rick Hart said. “Twice he’s been asked to kind of turn around programs much like Chad was asked to do here. We’re excited for the opportunity for him to come in now and really build on something rather than have to start from almost scratch.”
Dykes said he decided to coach in the bowl game Dec. 20 — the same day as the new early signing date for recruiting — because he wanted to ensure a good experience for the players in SMU’s first postseason game in five years.
Known for high-scoring offenses at Louisiana Tech and Cal and a former assistant under Mike Leach, Dykes said he’ll try to learn SMU’s system, led by sophomore quarterback Ben Hicks, for the bowl game before implementing his own starting early next year.
“I’m going to sit down with Ben today,” Dykes said. “I told Ben he may be the only player-coach in college football right now. He’s going to teach me the offense.”
And maybe Dykes can teach Hicks some SMU history.
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