It may have been a little earlier than we had thought, but the inevitable occurred on Sunday, when it was announced that embattled UK football coach Joker Phillips would not return to Lexington for the 2013 campaign. Almost immediately, fans took to social media and message boards with a veritable wish list of head coaching candidates. We here at Nation of Blue have heard almost every name in the book, from the outlandish to the under-qualified. But after all the smoke settles, the man I think will be standing behind the podium and in front of the big blue backdrop is Sonny Dykes.
I know a lot of you aren’t too familiar with the man, but once you look a little deeper at his credentials and his resume, you’ll see that he’s not only perfect for the job, but his hiring makes the most sense out of everyone considered.
Right off the bat, let’s look at his head coaching record. Dykes has been with Louisiana Tech since 2010, when he was hired to replace Derek Dooley, who as we all know was hired to replace Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. We all scratched our heads when we heard Dooley was going to get the Knoxville job, since he had more or less underperformed at Louisiana Tech. Dooley had just one winning season during his tenure in Ruston and was coming off of a disappointing 4-8 season. Dykes came in and posted a 5-7 record next season, one of four of the nation’s 22 new head coaches to coach their new teams to an improved record. Dykes followed that performance up with an impressive 8-5 campaign, finishing first in their conference and making the Poinsettia Bowl. And as of this writing, the Bulldogs are 8-1 on the season (3-0 in conference), ranked 19th in the Associated Press poll and well on their way to another bowl appearance.
You also must look back at his coaching history. Not many people realize it, but one of Dykes’ earliest coaching stops was right here in Big Blue Nation. Dykes joined Hal Mumme’s staff in 1997 as a Graduate Assistant and Tight Ends coach and another stint in 1999 as the Wide Receiver’s coach. He then followed Mike Leach to Texas Tech in 2000, first serving as his receivers coach, then as his offensive coordinator. I need not remind you of the high-tempo aerial attack employed both by Mumme and Leach.
After working with the Red Raiders, Dykes went on to become Mike Stoops’ offensive coordinator at Arizona in 2007, where he almost immediately improved their offensive output. He was also instrumental in the development of future New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who broke nearly every tight end record at Arizona.
One of the other factors you have to consider is… well… reality. Mitch Barnhart did the right thing by publicly announcing that Joker would not return with two games left in the season. Barnhart knows that he’s going to have a LOT of competition for some of the bigger names out there. Take Bobby Petrino for instance. Petrino is going to garner a LOT of interest for some upcoming vacancies, including rumored openings at Tennessee and Auburn. In order to even have a chance at Petrino, he’s going to need to get to him early. But will Petrino jump on the first offer he gets, or will he wait it out to see what else comes available? The smart money is on the latter. And when the presumed Vols and War Eagles jobs come open, with their superior facilities, which job is he going to take? Chances are, he’s not going to be house shopping in Lexington any time soon. Guys like Dykes are going to be the ones who draw most of the interest.
Dykes is ripe for the picking here. He’s proved to be a successful assistant coach and coordinator, who has developed plenty of players that have went on to successful NFL careers. He’s proved to be a winning head coach, who established Louisiana Tech as a power player in the more-competitive-than-you-think Western Athletic Conference. He employs a style of football that fans want to watch and players want to play. At 42 years of age, not only is he one of the brightest young minds in the game, he could run a high powered offense for years to come. Not to mention that coaching in the SEC is the dream job of almost every coach in the nation. Who wouldn’t want to come and coach in the premier conference in all of football?
If you’re still in doubt, ask yourself this question: Would you rather hire a coach with a name who will smile for the cameras for a few seasons and jump ship when a better offer comes around, or do you want a young guy looking to prove himself, who could possibly turn Kentucky into the dominant powerhouse we’ve always wanted and be there for years to come?
He may not be the most popular choice, but he’s the right choice.