As new Arkansas women’s head basketball coach Jimmy Dykes stood before the several hundred Razorback faithful, coaches, fans and members of the media, he spoke with great determination and an overwhelming pride for the state of Arkansas.
The eighth head coach in the history of Arkansas women’s basketball, while humbled at the opportunity to coach at his alma mater, did not shy away from making promises for a brighter future for his program.
Dykes found himself humbled to become a “small part” of the group of coaches athletic director Jeff Long has put on the U of A campus.
“I told (Jeff Long) when I shook his hand, ‘I will not let you down.’ I will not let (this team) down,” Dykes said. “But I’m just a small part, and for me to be a part of a team with Bret Bielema, Mike Anderson, Lance Harter, Dave Van Horn, I am overwhelmed that Long considers me worthy. I am all in. I am all in.”
Dykes inked a four-year deal with Arkansas to become its head coach, leaving behind a lucrative career in broadcasting, where he served as a color analyst for ESPN.
But all the while he worked with ESPN, his heart, his family and his home was always in northwest Arkansas. Dykes said he had opportunities to leave ESPN each of his 15 years as an analyst to coach basketball on either the college or pro level, but the timing was simply never right.
“I had a great job at ESPN. I was blessed in so many ways,” Dykes said. “For me to uproot and leave northwest Arkansas just didn’t make sense. I said it, this is the one job in the country I would have left for. When that job came open, my heart jumped.”
That job became open March 7 when former head coach Tom Collen was fired after a disappointing stretch in which he complied a 40-68 mark in Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas shot out of the gate to a 13-0 start to the season, but finished just 6-10 in SEC play and failed to move past the opening round of the SEC Tournament for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
And once there came an opening, Dykes knew he was ready to at least take a stab at the head coaching position and approached Long at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta which Dykes was covering for ESPN.
“We talked in Atlanta at the SEC Tournament initially for a couple of hours, and he told me he was going to go through the process,” Dykes said. “At the end of your process if I’m a serious candidate, let’s talk again. And I was a serious candidate.”
“At the end, he was the last candidate we sat with,” Long said. “He won the day. He won the show. No question.”
And now, Dykes has his alma mater’s women’s basketball program in his hands, and he is already grabbing the bull by the horns his first day on the job, promising to change the culture of the program.
Those promises included putting up a fence around the state of Arkansas recruiting-wise in hopes to keep the premiere talent from getting away.
“No more, state of Arkansas, will you leave this state if you’re good enough to play for the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team. You will not leave this state anymore,” Dykes said. “It’s gone on too long, and it’s coming to a screeching halt. We will put up a fence around this state. We will own this state. I give you that promise today.”
Several high profile recruits have escaped the grasps of the Razorback program to play elsewhere, including five-star guard Tyler Scaife of Hall High School in Little Rock, who signed with Rutgers. Four-star guard Roshunda Johnson of Parkview in Little Rock also left Arkansas to become an Oklahoma State Cowgirl.
Dykes will have no more of that as long as he is in charge. He will not stand for more poorly attended home games in Bud Walton Arena either. And with the excitement floating around the program, attendance should see a major improvement over the Collen years.
“It’s a big moment,” Dykes said as he took the podium Sunday evening. “It’s a big moment for Jimmy Dykes.”
“I will not accept ‘no’ in this program,” he said.