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TCU’s Sonny Dykes Used to Exceeding Expectations


TCU Head Coach Sonny Dykes | Image by Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

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No.4 TCU secured a spot in the Big 12 championship game with a 17-10 win over Texas on Saturday, continuing a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Sonny Dykes for a team that finished 5-7 last season.

Dykes has the Horned Frogs at 10-0 for the first time since 2010 when they finished 13-0 and won the Rose Bowl. He is the first coach in TCU and Big 12 history to start 10-0.

Positive results and exceeded expectations have seemed to follow coach Dykes almost anywhere he goes. Though it is his first year as the head coach, Dykes has previously spent a season at TCU.

He served as an offensive analyst for the Horned Frogs on a 2017 team that posted an 11-3 record, played in the Big 12 Championship Game, and finished the season with a No.9 national ranking.

Dykes followed his one year in Fort Worth with a fruitful four-year stint as the head coach of SMU, where he posted a 25-10 record over the last three seasons.

It was the first time SMU had three consecutive winning seasons since the mid-80s. The 2019 Mustangs under Dykes went 10-3, their most wins since 1984, and earned their highest national ranking (14) since 1985.

Dykes is used to managing teams through historical seasons. This season he has motivated his team to stay focused on the task at hand and rarely acknowledges what his team has accomplished.

“We’re not getting caught up in the last time this happened or the last time that happened,” Dykes said at a news conference last month. “It’s kind of just been we show up and play on Saturday. The key to our performance has been our preparation. There just hasn’t been that much talk about that stuff.”

The media picked TCU to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason standings, something regularly used as motivation by Dykes. The Horned Frogs have surpassed those expectations, knocking off five ranked opponents this season, tied for the most in the nation with No.5 Tennessee.

Dykes knows the importance of not listening to outsiders who pegged Texas as a 7.5-point favorite against TCU and embracing the underdog mentality.

“Nobody had any expectations for this football team at all other than ourselves,” he said. “We understand that’s the way it is. Our deal has been, ‘Hey, bring it on.’ If we’ve got to win ’em all, fine; let’s try to win ’em all.”

Although Dykes did not play college football, opting instead to play baseball at Texas Tech, his father Spike was a Texas football coaching icon. Spike coached football for 41 years — 38 of them in Texas — including 13 years (1986-1999) as the head coach of Texas Tech.

Sonny broke into coaching as a high school baseball coach. But his curiosity and the knowledge he sapped up from his father led him from an English teacher and assistant coach at Richardson’s JJ Pearce High School to an assistant at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, who replaced Spike Dykes, less than 10 years later.

Sonny Dykes worked his way up the assistant coaching ranks before becoming the head coach of Louisiana Tech in 2010. Under Dykes, Louisiana Tech went from 5-7 his first season to 9-3 in 2012.

His success at Louisiana Tech landed him a job in a Power Five conference as the head coach at Cal.

Cal improved from 1-11 in Dykes first season to 5-7, then to 8-5, but his time there ended unceremoniously with the school firing him in the middle of a 5-7 fourth season after reports indicated Dykes was seeking out other job interviews.

Dykes publicly noted Cal was not a fit for him and a significant reason why he chose to return to his deep roots in Texas.

Back in his home state, Dykes is leading one of only four remaining undefeated college football teams in the nation.

There is no question about his fit with the program. Dykes knew that would not be a problem, noting the 2017 season he spent with TCU made him realize that was the perfect spot for him.

“This is a fantastic place, and it took a long process to get here,” said Dykes at his introductory press conference. “I spent a year in this program, and I was blown away by the people I met and blown away by the players that were on the roster. It was really an eye-opening experience for me to see what kind of place this was.”

The fit of Dykes with the Horned Frogs can certainly not be questioned amid the historic season. But TCU likely has to finish with a perfect record to make the exclusive four-team College Football Playoff.

This Saturday brings another in-state road test, with a game in Waco against Baylor.

Though his team is not the underdog against the Bears, Dykes said there is no lack of motivation to continue a perfect season.

“There’s been times in my coaching career I stayed up all night Sunday trying to think of ways to motivate the team,” Dykes said. “What can we tell them this week that may or may not be true that’s going to invoke and inspire the guys to practice hard and prepare well and give it their best effort?”

“We just haven’t had to do that this year,” Dykes continued. “We never had to do it in fall camp. We didn’t have to do it during spring training.”

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