Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Dykes a surprise, but don’t bet against him
Jimmy Dykes, left, speaks to Grace Kilcrease, 9, after a press conference introducing him as the eighth women's head basketball coach Sunday, March 30, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Surprising might be the best way to describe Jimmy Dykes’ hiring as the new head coach of the Arkansas women’s basketball team.
It wasn’t quite shocking, but the obvious made it surprising.
Dykes seemed entrenched at ESPN, working SEC basketball games with Brad Nessler.
He has never been a head coach and, in fact, had been out of coaching since January 1991.
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He has never coached women.
Granted, he has always remained in close contact with the UA and has been an unofficial adviser when it came to men’s basketball matters.
So his love of the UA is well-documented, as is his knowledge of the game. You never heard head coaches criticizing him for his analyses of games.
The obvious questions are: can he make the adjustment from the men’s game to the women’s, and can he recruit.
There are big differences these days in the men’s and women’s basketball. Of course, the women don’t have as many dunkers, aren’t quite as physical and play just a bit slower. But women are much more fundamentally sound than the men, are more disciplined in a motion offense and are less likely to take bad shots.
As a matter of full disclosure, before going any further, it should be noted that I have known Jimmy since he was a walk-on for Eddie Sutton and the Razorbacks.
In those days of open practices, when coaches pushed the players into the spotlight to promote the games, it was easy to build relationships.
Plus, during Dykes’ senior season I traveled with the team to Japan and Hong Kong and we spent a lot of time on buses and in hotel lobbies.
I attended his wedding. I will never forget how beautiful his wife, Tiffany, looked, how nervous Jimmy looked - like she might change her mind and not show up - and that I drove Joe Kleine’s whole family home after the reception because youngest son William had an ear infection and Joe and Dana hadn’t slept the previous night.
Dykes and I once shared a house for a month many years ago. At the time he was making the transition from pursuing a singing career - yes, he has a great singing voice - to announcing.
Dykes worked his tail off to get where he was at ESPN. He covered almost everything for them, which included dogs jumping into a lake, to gain experience and move up. He started out being on call to do games for Raycom at a fee that barely covered expenses and became one of the main analysts for ESPN.
All the while he was studying dozens, maybe hundreds, of coaches and the game of basketball.
Still, his hiring has surprised a lot of folks, some of whom are obviously looking for reasons to question Athletic Director Jeff Long.
Dykes, who was once named by People magazine as one of the country’s 50 most eligible bachelors, is a brand. That is something Long likes because it translates into marketing, and the Razorbacks women’s team is in dire need of putting fans in the seats.
Dykes has a great reputation in Northwest Arkansas, having lived there for many years. He and Tiffany and their daughter Kennedy are very involved in the community.
As for his resume, before becoming an announcer Dykes worked at the UA, Kentucky, Appalachian State, Arkansas State and UALR to name a few.
Some might see Dykes as an experiment or even a long shot, but he will bring some things to the job that are critical.
He has incredible energy, passion and enthusiasm. He is a man of character who has never wavered in his spiritual life.
He is unafraid of this challenge, and it is a big challenge. One of the first things he said was that he needs to get the talent in Arkansas to stay in Arkansas.
If he doesn’t succeed, he most likely will be the first to admit it, but given his drive and qualities, he has a shot to make his mark in the Razorbacks’ history book.
Sports, Pages 21 on 04/02/2014