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Sonny Dykes could be a nice fit at Kentucky for lot of reasons

By LARRY VAUGHT

With no idea what the exact timetable Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart has in mind for hiring a new football coach, it does make sense that he probably has started to narrow down his coaching search.

Sources tell me Barnhart did indeed place a call to former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who told him he had no interest in college coaching. But give Barnhart credit for making the call. If you don’t swing for the fence, you can’t hit a home run.

One thing several coaches/fans have mentioned to me is that the UK staff needs to get younger. Look at basketball coach Johnn Calipari’s staff and how often you hear recruits talk about relating to assistant coach Orlando Antigua. Tee Martin was that guy on Joker Phillips’ staff but he left for USC. I know experience is valuable in coaching, but relating to players is very important, too.

“Cal probably has never heard a rap CD in his life, but I guarantee you Orlando Antigua can name every rapper those kids listen to and gets Cal to call them,” said one source with knowledge of UK’s football coaching search.

Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes is on UK’s list. I’m convinced UK has at least reached out to his agent and has the feeling Dykes, who is 9-2 this year going into Saturday’s game with San Jose State, would have interest in the job if offered. While the Cats may also have interest in Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, who turned down $2.5 million per year from Illinois last year, it seems UK would have a more realistic chance to land Dykes if it moves now.

Here’s why Dykes could be a nice fit at Kentucky — and remember it doesn’t always take a big-name coach to succeed as James Franklin is proving at Vanderbilt.

— He knows Kentucky football. He was a graduate assistant at UK under Hal Mumme in 1997 when the Cats beat Alabama and came back in 1999 to coach receivers and special teams. The Cats beat No. 20 Arkansas and went to the Music City Bowl. He coached James Whalen, Quentin McCord, Derek Smith and Brad Pyatt, all future NFL signees.

— He has recruiting ties to Texas. He grew up in Texas and his father, Spike Dykes, was the head coach at Texas Tech. In 2000, Dykes joined from UK assistant coach Mike Leach’s staff at Texas Tech. He coached wide receivers for five years and then was promoted to offensive coordinator. In Dykes’ second season as co-offensive coordinator, Texas Tech ranked third in passing with 370 passing yards per game and sixth in total offense averaging nearly 450 total yards per game. That season Dykes directed an offense that scored 32 points per game, and two receivers ranked top three in the nation in receptions per game and a third receiver ranked in the top 20.

— He’s relatively young at age 43. He can relate to players and that also means he has a burning desire to win and continue to see his coaching career escalate. Every move he’s made — he went from Texas Tech to Arizona as offensive coordinator and then to Louisiana Tech as head coach in 2010 — has been an upward move and he’s continued to have more success at each stop.

— He does value defense. This year his defense is not that good, but it has been decimated by injuries to players he expected to have starting. Last year his team led the conference in defense. And his father valued defense at Texas Tech. Dykes loves a productive, entertaining offense, but he wants a defense that can get off the field, too.

“He has an ego, but what good coach doesn’t,” said one college coach who knows Dykes. “He trusts his coaches, though, and knows how to let coaches coach. He also genuinely cares about people in the program from the assistant coaches’ wives to the janitor. You can’t fake that. Sonny won’t cheat, either. What he will do is flat-out coach. At Kentucky, you better be able to coach. That’s what James Franklin  has done at Vanderbilt. He has a plan, everybody is on board, he hired good assistant coaches and they outcoach some people with better talent.”

Those close to Dykes insist money — for him — will not be a main point in negotiations with one of several jobs he could be offered in the next few weeks. Instead, he’ll be more concerned with salaries for his staff and the overall commitment to football.

What about Tony Franklin, Dykes’ offensive coordinator? He was also the running backs coach and then offensive coordinator at Kentucky under Mumme. His offense is not the same one Dykes ran at Arizona and this offense has been on fire at Louisiana Tech. But Franklin had what some remember as a nasty departure from UK just before the NCAA woes with Mumme hit. Many felt Franklin leaked information to the media and he later wrote a book about his time at UK. He also sued UK.

However, read the book. He did not blister UK football. The suit? He just wanted a letter saying he was not involved in any wrongdoing and that he didn’t leak information. He got both as UK sent a letter to every Division I school saying that.

Dykes would want Franklin — and any school that wants Dykes should want Franklin as well because the offense has worked so well. Would that be a dealbreaker at UK? I don’t know, but it shouldn’t be.

“Sonny is going to get his chance to move up and when he does, a school is going to get a really good, young coach,” the college coach said. “Maybe it will be Kentucky. Maybe it will be somebody else in the SEC. Who knows? Then again, if Sonny doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll be more than content to stay at Louisiana Tech and continuing to build that program and win games.”

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28 comments

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  1. Rich Madky

    I agree wholeheartedly on Franklin. Something that happened 15 yrs ago under another administration shouldn’t be held against him now. I just wonder is this is moot, since Franklin would be a candidate to replace Dykes as HC.

  2. eddie

    also larry espn said he is a hot up and commer and his offense is second only to oregon wich WOW impressive and he is a top ten recruiter i am on board for dykes as wel if we could not land a big name he is a up and comming big name we could have as i said in the past the next saban or les miles on our hands if he came.

    1. larryvaught

      You feel like I do Eddie. Have to be realistic about what coach will be attracted to Kentucky. LIke UK has to spot talent and develop that talent in players, UK officials/Barnhart need to spot which coach can move up and be a success. To me, Dykes can do that

  3. Jim

    I would prefer to hear a coaching announcement, after the UT game. If the new hire is from a program that is going to a bowl, does that mean we will be waiting until afer bowl season?

  4. Wes

    Larry, I hope this article does not mean you have given up on getting Petrino and/or heard that he definitely is out as a candidate. I mean no disprespect to Dykes, but I’d still rather have Petrino.

    1. larryvaught

      With you Wes, but just think timeline to get Petrino has come and gone for UK and those making decisions at UK had no interest in even talking to Petrino which baffles me

      1. viper

        I don’t understand the mystery Larry. Petrino is a low-class operation. As I have said before, UK basketball can survive a BCG. UK football would be devestated, perhaps permanently. BTW…before someone goes there, I have no knowledge of anything like alcoholism or abuse, etc. with Petrino. I am referring to continuously lying to and misleading former employers. Any of you who own a business or manage one, ask yourself if you would hire him to do anything in your company (keeping your books for instance) knowing what he has done in the past.

        1. larryvaught

          Viper, hard to imagine Petrino could do any worse to the UK football program than what it is going through now. On the field, the guy wins and Kentucky needs somebody who can coach and win. Didn’t have to hire him, but seems to me you would have at least talked to him

          1. Larry Pup

            Right on Larry V. I just don’t understand the mind set of not even talking to BP. This guy would have UK winning football games in quick order. Can you imagine a scenario where UK may be forced to talk to BP because nobody else wants the job? I understand it has been rumored that Smart has already declined.

  5. JCC

    Thing about Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin, I don’t know if you get one that you get the other. There is a very good chance if Dykes were to leave for Kentucky, Tony Franklin takes over the reins at LTU. Thats what I would do. So is it Sony Dykes’ “O” or Franklins’?

  6. Chuck

    Wes, Im afraid we have to move on from Petrino. I wished it werent true, but from all indications from all media sources and those that know Mitch, Petrino wont be coaching here. The name going around now is Butch Jones, but Im not crazy about that hire. I could get behind the hiring of Dykes though, it would take some time. But all that is how UK tries to market the hiring of the next coach.

    WHoever the coach is, they need to promote the program in every avenue possible. There needs to be a buzz created for the program like there was when Cal was hired for BBall. I dont think it will happen though. I think there will be the press conference announcing his hire and then football will drift back off into the corner until spring ball rolls around and then we will see another lack of interest in the promotion of the football program during a time where all the other SEC programs are generating excitement about the coming year.

    1. Jim

      You can’t duplicate the Cal hire in fooball, unless you hire Alabama’s HC. Not gonna happen. I would like Gruden. Not gonna happen.

      Petrino would win, but a lot of push back saying he won’t stay. I would be happy to get three years of winning. But he could leave sooner.

      No Petrino or Gruden, I couldn’t begin to guess who could come in and generate excitement. Notre Dame seems to have hit the jackpot with their coach. They have had their share of misses. It would be nice for Kentucky to strike gold. So, if Cincy was smart enough to hire Kelley, then maybe their next coach is a gem as well. Who knows?

    2. rqa

      Chuck, “Buzz” follows interest, I don’t think you can create it artificially.
      I liken it to people who will call into a call-in radio show and it goes like this…

      Host: “And now we welcome “K” who says he wants to talk about X. Caller K, you’re on the air.”

      Caller K: “Thanks for taking my call. Why don’t you ever talk about X?”

      Host: “We’ve tried to talk about X but whenever we do the phone lines go dead…but you’re here so let’s talk. What would you like to discuss?”

      Caller: “Well, I don’t know…I just want to know why you never talk about it…”.

      Host: “Thanks for calling.”

      When you say “create buzz”…explain what you would like to see.
      IMHO, you are either interested in the product or you are not. UK BB doesn’t have to put on BBM to get people to “buzz” about basketball. People packed Memorial and waited til midnight to see the first practices. I’ve been to Alabama’s A-Game…people come early, tailgate and go to the game. They “buzz” about Bama football 12 months a year…
      People make excuses every year about the Blue/White game. Keeneland is open if the game is during the day. It’s the same day as Thunder over the Ohio” if it is at night… It’s too cold…It’s raining… It’s too pretty of a day to waste it sitting watching a scrimage…

      I like football and would rather watch football that watch the horses or watch fireworks. I can dress warmly and/or wear rain gear…

      1. Chuck

        Well for one, since its a new coach, having him make media appearances to promote the program during the dead time of the year would help. Has UK ever tried to really promote the Spring Game? Most of the time you have to work to find out even when it is. Televise the spring game, with an exciting offense, that would generate some buzz like it did in the Mumme days.

        I remember reading about the numbers that Couch had put up during the Spring game and that had peaked my interest quite enough that I started getting excited of the new possibilities before the season started, and then we beat the Cards and there was a real Buzz around the program at that point. The whole Air Raid theme was introduced and the football program had a buzz around it. I saw it living down in South Florida with very little internet coverage at that time, nothing like what we have now.

  7. JackG

    Larry, wish I could embrace your optimism but I can’t. No disrespect to Sonny Dykes but just feel he is not the home run hire Kentucky needs to have to turn this program around. Just finished watching College Football Show on ESPN. They debated which five teams (UK, Auburn, Misourri, UT, Arkansas) would be a quick fix or long term fix. Guess who was the long term fix? Kentucky. This tells me that ESPN along with the BBN continues to believe that Mitch or this administration is still not ready to make the commitment needed to turn this program around. The Kentucky segment started out with Kentucky the basketball school. Enough said. WeAreUK!!!!!

    1. Larry Pup

      The hell with ESPN!

  8. UK 24 7

    Larry
    What if Sonny Dykes comes to UK as head coach with Neal Brown as his OC? Tony Franklin could move into the HC slot at Louisiana Tech. Tubberville would fail after a few years w/o Brown and be fired. Sonny Dykes would take the HC job at Texas Tech leaving us in good shape with Neal Brown as HC. Remember where you heard it guys.

  9. Bill

    Larry, I’m with Wes on this. UK missing on Petrino is inexcusable.

  10. Ukalum

    I honestly think that gary Anderson of utah state would’ve the better hire. He was on urban Meyers staff when Meyer won his first BCS bowl. He was the defensive coordinator of the utah team that went 13-0 and beat Alabama by 14 in the 2008 sugar bowl. His utah state team is in the top 50 in every major statically category including 31st in pass offense, 35th in rush offense, 8th is scoring defense and 10th in rush defense. The utah state program he took over had 11 consecutive losing seasons. The last good coach at utah state was John L smith in the late 90′s and now he has got his team to win the WAC and will likely get to ten wins for the first time in over 34 years next week. What do you think?

  11. Jim B

    Folks I have never had a “source’ before now, but I can tell you that my source said that Tony told Dykes he should take the UK job, although I don’t really know it has been offered to him and I never thought to ask my source if he had even been approached about the UK coach’s job. Also Tony told this person that he would not be coming back to Kentucky if he was offered the OC job. Larry, you can email me and I will tell you about the whole conservation, but I won’t post it here.

    1. larryvaught

      Jim B, email me at larry@amnews.com Would love to hear the story. Can believe Tony would tell Sonny to take the job. But would not write off totally the chance that Tony would come to UK. Tony is big part of Sonny’s success and Sonny is not going to bail on him

  12. john4uk

    I can’t believe the folks who keep on harping that Petrino would leave if he were hired.Every coach that UK has hired except Brooks and Joker were hired away from other schools.Even the coaches on some of your wish lists are now coaching at other schools.Sounds kind of hypocritical to me.
    I wish Mitch would get off his high horse and if he has’nt ,make overtures to Petrino,after all ,he is an outstanding coach who is available.And would not be hired away from another school.

    1. gary

      Amen, Amen, Amen and AMEN!

  13. Joe

    Yes, Dykes has had success in the WAC, but what makes anyone sure that would translate into success in the SEC? He might turn out ok, but he is NOT a “home run” hire. In my opinion, if Petrino is out (and it looks like he is), we should go hard after Dirk Koetter, offer him the bank, and control over the program. He’s a guy who is willing to change his own system to fit his players, the same way Cal does.

    And if he says no, hire Kliff Kingsbury. He is 10 years younger than Dykes, would be able to connect with the younger crowd, and is wanting to make a name for himself. Much better hire IMO.

    1. larryvaught

      no way to ever know for sure who will work out. With Dirk, will he still relate to college? With Kliff, how will he do calling his own shots? Always questions, but I just like a lot about Dykes including that he knows Kentucky

      1. Richard

        Larry,
        Don’t forget that Dirk was head coach at both Boise State and Arizona State.

    2. TrueBlueJohn

      I look at what his team has done against quality teams and BCS competition this year. They thumped Illinois and Virginia. Lost a heartbreaker to one of the suprise teams in the country, Texas A&M. Lost in OT to a very good Utah ST. team. And he has done this with a crippled defense. Sonny Dykes is my choice. I believe that he is a very good coach, and comes with no baggage attached.

  14. Here's Hope

    I am convinced whoever the hire is, the announcement will not be made until after the conference championship games and bowl announcements. The week of Dec. 2nd would be my bet. And coaches they have talked to are doing their “homework” on UK and the administrations commitment and control over football. That will have a LOT to do with who comes.

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