FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Sonny Dykes was nearing the end of a season as an off-field offensive analyst, and pondering his next move.
Fired from his previous head coaching job and with three young kids at home, the son of longtime college coach Spike Dykes even considered a career change after more than two decades in football. He had researched what he would need to do to get a real estate license.
Five years later, the 53-year-old is settled in at home, in Texas, still doing what he always wanted to do and is now near the peak of his profession with TCU (12-1) making it into the four-team College Football Playoff.
“It’s been a lot of things, a culmination of a lot,” said Dykes, The Associated Press Coach of the Year who is in his first season as head coach at the school where he was a consultant for coach Gary Patterson in 2017.
The Horned Frogs, undefeated until an overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, play Big Ten champion Michigan (13-0) in the CFP semifinal Fiesta Bowl on Saturday. They are the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma – and first from Texas — to make the CFP.
“Being a Texas guy, the state of Texas means a lot to me, the history of college football in the state of Texas means a lot to me,” Dykes said.
That season working for the Frogs, when they made their only other Big 12 title game, was an opportunity for Dykes to get home after going 19-30 in four seasons at California. The job out West was never really a good fit for the folksy, Texas-born coach.
“I was looking around, trying to get a job and trying to decide … taking a job some place that I didn’t necessarily want to go, was that the direction I wanted to go in,” he said. “I’ve obviously always wanted to coach.”
Then SMU offered its head coaching job, only about 40 miles and four years away from a return to replace Patterson at TCU. Dykes, whose first head coaching job was at Louisiana Tech, led SMU to 30 wins in its best four-season stretch since it became the only program ever shut down by the so-called NCAA death penalty three decades earlier.
The Frogs went 23-24 during that same time, and parted ways with Patterson even before the end of his 21st season. Dykes was immediately considered the favorite to replace him, which happened after the regular season.
“I didn’t want them to think about coming in and think this was supposed to be a rebuilding year,” Heisman Trophy-finalist senior quarterback Max Duggan said, recalling his initial conversation with Dykes. “We can win now. We’ve just to fix a lot of our issues, culture-wise and discipline and accountability.”
The Frogs did win, and a year after Dykes was formally introduced, they were back in the same room for the playoff announcement.
Dykes grew up in the Lone Star State, where his late father coached at several levels over 38 years. That included Spike’s 14 seasons as the helm of Texas Tech, where the younger Dykes played baseball, not football.
Sonny Dykes was a Texas Tech assistant for seven seasons, the first seven after his father retired when on the staff of the late Mike Leach. He went west for the first time as offensive coordinator at Arizona from 2007-09, then had a 22-15 record in three seasons at Louisiana Tech before taking the Cal job.
Now, Dykes is leading a TCU program that won its only AP national title in 1938, when quarterback Davey O’Brien was the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner. The Frogs, then still in the Mountain West, were 13-0 during the 2010 season that ended with a Rose Bowl victory and No. 2 national ranking.
When TCU wrapped up this regular season with a win over Iowa State, it was Sonny’s 83rd career win — one more than his father.
“Felt him kind of all year with me,” Dykes said. “He would certainly get a kick out of our guys … what kind of people they are, because it’s a heck of a group and guys that I’m certainly proud of. I know he’d feel the same way.”
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