Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
A McDonnell hour left Dykes submerged
Jimmy Dykes speaks after being introduced as the eighth women's head basketball coach Sunday, March 30, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Dykes left his job as an analyst for ESPN for the position. Dykes coached at Arkansas, Sacramento State, Appalachian State, Kentucky and Arkansas-Little Rock, and Oklahoma State.
FAYETTEVILLE — Years ago, when Jimmy Dykes was the athletic director at Shiloh Christian High School, he came to the same Walton Arena office he now calls his own to seek advice from the greatest coach of them all.
Dykes, well versed in basketball as an Arkansas player and later as a three-time assistant to Eddie Sutton, sought counsel about how to field a team in cross country, a sport foreign to him.
He came to the right place.
College track’s greatest resource was headquartered back then at Walton Arena: John McDonnell, the NCAA’s all-time championship coach guiding the Razorbacks men to 40 national championships and 84 conference championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track.
Dykes, already juggling jobs as the Shiloh Christian athletic director and ESPN basketball analyst, found coaching girls cross country thrust upon him when some girls asked if Shiloh Christian could field a team.
“We didn’t have any other available coaches and I said, ‘I will have to be your coach,’ ” Dykes said. “I never coached high school girls cross country and track but let’s get it rolling.’ The next day I called John McDonnell. He sat right here and I sat right over there and I said, ‘John, just tell me in an hour what I need to know as a cross country coach and track coach.”
No other hour taught him more.
McDonnell discussed the nuances of coaching distance runners, but only briefly.
“Heck, everybody knows the X’s and O’s,” McDonnell, retired since 2008, said of his meeting with Dykes. “If that’s all you know, you don’t get too far. The key is to have athletes ready on their given day.”
What turns that key unlocked most of the hour.
“The conversation was more about how to motivate people to work hard,” Dykes said. “How to love them and hold them accountable and how to get them to run through a wall for you. All those things I knew were common threads of great coaches, but to hear John say the same thing with what he accomplished just told me once again the importance. He said this to me and I say this to my team: ‘Do what is right, not what is easy.’ “
What McDonnell, retired since 2008, said to Dykes apparently took hold.
“We won 11 state championships in five years, so something went well for us there,” Dykes said.
Forever impressed, Dykes said he will ask McDonnell to address his Arkansas women’s basketball team next fall before he begins his first season as head coach.
Razorbacks women’s basketball fans should be impressed that McDonnell was impressed with Dykes and remains so.
“He got to working and bing, bam, boom, he won championships from nothing,” McDonnell said of Dykes at Shiloh Christian.
Can Dykes translate that coaching success to Razorbacks women’s basketball?
“I really think he will,” McDonnell said. “He’s been around Eddie, and Eddie was a great coach. His career with radio and TV, he was sharp. Seems to me he’s the type of guy that can do it all.”