UA women’s coach has a lot going for him

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Jimmy Dykes speaks after being introduced as the eighth women's head basketball coach Sunday, March 30, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Samantha Baker
Jimmy Dykes speaks after being introduced as the eighth women's head basketball coach Sunday, March 30, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - The University of Arkansas’ women’s basketball program needed to be promoted among the Arkansas public in the worst way.

With Sunday’s hiring of Jimmy Dykes, for the short run in the best way the UA’s women’s basketball team got the recognition it needs in the worst way.

It remains to be seen whether Dykes’ hiring works out for the best or the worst in the long run.

Of course that’s true of any new coach hired anywhere. But it seems an especially open book for a coach who has never been a head coach or even a No. 1 assistant coach, has never coached college women and has spent the past 15 years serving as a basketball analyst for ESPN.

Jimmy Dykes Introductory Press Conference

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long introduced Jimmy Dykes as the eighth head coach of the Arkansas women's basketball team Sunday night at Bud Walton Arena. (By Andrew Hutchinson)
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The novelty of all that fueled the most talk about Arkansas’ women’s basketball program since former coach/promoter Gary Blair (1993-2003) had the Lady ’Backs - as they were successfully marketed back then - regularly in the postseason and regularly promoted at most every opportunity.

Following Blair’s exit, with only one NCAA Tournament achieved two seasons ago, the Arkansas women played in front of sparse home crowds for four years under Susie Gardner and the past seven under Tom Collen.

The anonymity ended Sunday.

With Arkansas roots as a Fayetteville High graduate, UA graduate, Shiloh Christian High School’s athletic director and as Razorbacks walk-on and assistant under former coach Eddie Sutton, Dykes was known statewide even before 15 years at ESPN made him a national face.

Dykes naturally will draw attention to the women’s basketball program, and he will draw it with unprecedented athletic director’s support.

Unlike some former Razorbacks who have been critical of the “corporate” and “secretive” style they say Jeff Long has operated the Razorbacks since becoming athletic director in 2008, Dykes publicly lauded Long at every opportunity.

“Jeff Long is the reason I am standing here,” Dykes said at Sunday’s introductory news conference. “You know how I feel about him if you ever heard me emceeing a banquet. Now that I have been taken behind the closed doors of how he operates and the university operates, he is the best athletic director in college sports bar none.” Long has lobbed similar bouquets Dykes’ way for some time, and of course lavished more Sunday.

Expect Dykes to be treated patiently next season behind the Long/UA closed doors, although ironically Tom Collen had approached 2013-2014 with big expectations for 2014-2015.

Asked early this past season about the pressure of the 2015 SEC Tournament being held in North Little Rock, Collen predicted that team would be peaking and up to it. Arkansas loses just one senior off its 19-11 team of 2013-2014, and it will return second-team All-SEC forward Jessica Jackson and assists-leading point guard Calli Berna.

Now, as the rarest blend of being both Arkansas’ own and the Arkansas athletic director’s own, Jimmy Dykes assumes that team with more exposure, more support and less pressure than Collen would have had.

Sports, Pages 16 on 04/02/2014