By LARRY VAUGHT
As the speculation about Kentucky’s next football coach continues, it seems that Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes’ name keeps emerging more and more — and it should.
Dykes, 43, has terrific offensive credentials. He coached tight ends, receivers and special teams in two stints under Hal Mumme at Kentucky and then was Mike Leach at Texas Tech and eventually was Leach’s offensive coordinator. His next stop was Arizona where he was offensive coordinator three years under Bob Stoops and since 2010 he’s been the head coach at Louisiana Tech as he took over when Derek Dooley left for Tennessee. And don’t forget his father is Spike Dyes, the all-time winningest coach in Texas Tech history.
He’s led Louisiana Tech to an 8-1 record this year with the only loss coming 59-57 at Texas A&M. That’s the same Texas A&M that just beat Mississippi State in Starkville. Louisiana Tech won at Illinois and Virginia this season as well as 56-49 at Houston. Last year his team started 1-4, but won seven straight games and got in the Poinsettia Bowl.
This year his team is averaging 52.4 points and 570 total yards per game. However, he’s not just about passing. Louisiana Tech averages 332 yards passing per game but also adds 239 yards per game rushing.
It’s even more impressive considering Tech has had to start a walk-on center and has three walk-on receivers in its playing rotation. But the offense has been superb because quarterback Colby Cameron has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 2,946 yards. He’s thrown 358 passes without an interception.
So what makes Dykes able to revive offenses and win games?
“The biggest thing he does good is the way he deals with people. He builds relationships with players, coaches, coaches’ wives, boosters, people in the community,” said a source who coached with Dykes who asked not to be identified. “He will sit and talk football with a truck driver off the street. His dad was the same way.
“Sonny just gets it and understands it. He knows how to relate to his players really well. He has an open door policy with players, coaches, professors, janitors. He talks to anybody. He also wants his staff to deal with football. He stays out of what his coaches do and lets them coach. He trust his coaches to coach. And that includes defense. He lets his defensive guys make their decisions. He believes in defense, too. He’s not always had a strong defense at Louisiana Tech, but I think he had some injuries this year that hurt him. If he’s the head coach at a school like Kentucky in the SEC, he won’t write off defense.”
Would Dykes be interested in Kentucky? Or would he be more interested in a likely opening at Arkansas? Or maybe Auburn or Tennessee? What about if Tommy Tuberville leaves Texas Tech and that job is open?
“I think he would be interested,” said the coach. “But if he doesn’t think everything is right, he wouldn’t come. He knows he’s having a magical season at Louisiana Tech and odds are he could not make it the next Boise State because average attendance is probably only about 20,000 per game.”
One sticking point — and it could be a big one — at Kentucky could be Dykes’ offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin. He coached at UK with Dykes under Mumme. Franklin was never implicated in any NCAA wrongdoing that cost Mumme his job, but he wrote a book about his time at Kentucky that some UK officials did not like. Since then he’s been offensive coordinator at Troy, Auburn and Middle Tennessee as well as Louisiana Tech. He tutored Neal Brown, the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech now who is being mentioned as well in the UK coaching search speculation.
Franklin would understand if Dykes was told he could not bring him to Kentucky. But would Dykes? How could you want to hire a head coach to revive your program and tell him he could not bring the offensive coordinator who has made his team successful with him?
Some might think money would talk. Dykes signed a contract extension to increase his base salary to $750,000 and keep him at Louisiana Tech through the 2017 season. Phillips makes close to three times that per year and UK likely will offer the next coach even more money.
But money is not what drives Dykes. Winning does.
“He won’t go where he can’t win,” the coach said. “He wouldn’t take a job for $2 million if he couldn’t win or have the things in place he thinks it will take to win. He has the money to do what he wants, and don’t forget that Louisiana Tech will probably offer him more money to stay. He’s going to get some shots at head jobs and unlike a lot of coaches, it will be the chance to win, not the money, that drives him.”