When ESPN announcer and former Razorback player Jimmy Dykes approached Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long at the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament in Atlanta, he had two things on his mind.
The former Division I college men's assistant coach wanted to know how the search was going for a new women's basketball coach and how he could become a part of it.
"We saw each other in Atlanta at the SEC and I asked him how his search was going and he said ‘I am just getting started,'" Dykes remembered. "I said ‘you know what, let's find time to get together' because it was already on my heart at that time.
"So we talked in Atlanta initially for a couple of hours and he told me he was going to go through the process," Dykes added, "and I said ‘well, I've got the SEC semifinals and finals, the NIT and the women's tournament coverage and I have a lot on my plate the next couple of weeks so at the end of your process if I am a serious candidate, let's talk again.'
"It turns out I was a serious candidate," Dykes said with a big smile.
Indeed Dykes was named the eighth coach in the history of the women's program on Sunday morning, formally introduced in a Sunday night pep rally/introductory press conference.
Dykes is adamant about being the right man at the right time.
"We will have passion and we will fight like the University of Arkansas and State of Arkansas expects us to fight," Dykes said. "Nobody can sell this program, sell the University of Arkansas, sell the State of Arkansas better than Jimmy Dykes, I know that with all my heart."
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long tabbed the hire as non-traditional one and noted that he gave him a four-contract - his norm for a first-year head coach.
"I think the important thing is we said that we were going to stay true to our process and some people might have just latched on to Jimmy when he brought it up to us in Atlanta and just said that 'you are our coach,'" Long said. "...We talked to some of the best coaches in the country across the country and then we compared Jimmy to that. He won out heads above everybody else."
Dykes replaces former coach Tom Collen, who leaves after a seven-year stint in which he went 130-92 overall, but only 40-68 in SEC play and only got to the NCAA Tournament once.
"When that job came open, my heart jumped and so I had to go through a process of thinking about it, praying about it, got with Jeff and over the last three days, it went boom, boom, boom," Dykes continued.
"… I know college basketball can use me as a coach because I can teach the game," Dykes said. "I have taught the game on TV. If you can't teach the game, you can't coach the game. I know I can teach and coach it."
Arkansas senior-to-be point guard Calli Berna was wowed by the hire.
"We are really excited that he is here and we think he brings great energy," Berna said. "Just listening to him up there on the podium I wanted to go out and practice right away. He knows what it is like to be a Hog and I think that is important."
He will leave ESPN with a year-plus left on his contract.
He'll do the 3-point and slam dunk competition for ESPN on Thursday night – something he says will be a three-hour infomercial for Arkansas – and then put his full time into reviving a program that was once called the Lady Razorbacks.
"This job is perfect and the timing is perfect," Dykes said. "No more in the State of Arkansas if you are good enough to play on the University of Arkansas' women's basketball team will you leave this state. It has gone on too long. We will build a fence around this state. We will own this state. I make this promise to you tonight."
He knows that he has to land the best players in his state and beyond to compete in the SEC.
"I have to go back and track it, but I think there is one or two BCS level players every year coming out of this state," Dykes said. "I have seen too many go to Oklahoma State and Rutgers and Oklahoma and go to Tennessee. That can't happen.
"I know there is a strong freshman and sophomore class in the state right now and if they are good enough to be here then I have to get them here," Dykes added. "We have to get them here. No longer can we allow a school to come into our state and take our best. "
He noted that he had opportunities every year of his 15-year television career at ESPN to get back into coaching, but chose not to do so until now.
"First of all, I had a great job at ESPN and was blessed in so many ways, but for me to uproot and leave Northwest Arkansas just didn't make sense," Dykes said. "And I just said it - this is the one job in the country that I would have left for.
"I am a big believer in women's basketball and I want to not only be a voice for the University of Arkansas women's basketball, I want to be a voice for the country," Dykes said. "I think our game needs that right now."
He knows there are critics of hiring a men's coach who has not coached the women's game before.
"People will say I have never been a head coach on the college level or in the women's game," Dykes said. "Nothing I can do about that. But I tell them if you play me, the pressure is on you. Fred Hoiberg - the head coach at Iowa State University in the Sweet 16 this year and in 3 NCAA Tournaments the last four years - never was a head coach until brought back to his alma mater in his home town.
"They trusted him because they knew Fred Hoiberg was going to get it done at Iowa State," Dykes added. "I am going to do the same thing for this women's basketball program."
Dykes, who was scheduled to work in-studio for ESPN this weekend, said he would be retaining assistants Amber Shirey and Tari Cummings and hiring two others.
"Tari Cummings and Amber Shirey will be on my staff," Dykes said. "I am not letting them go. I met with them this morning. I saw their passion. I trust them."
Dykes promised one more thing.
"We will be known as a very tough team," Dykes said. "We are not known as a tough team in the women's game. I am going to call it like it is, those days are over. Those days are over."
Photos by Jason Ivester
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long introduces new Arkansas women's coach Jimmy Dykes, his wife Tiffany and his daughter Kennedy.
Dykes talks about his plans for the future with one of his signature sayings up on the Arkansas scoreboard at Bud Walton Arena.
Dykes is the eighth head coach in the history of the Arkansas women's basketball program.
Dykes Is All In For Arkansas
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016
The Ultimate Midlands TeamThere is a lot of talent in the Midlands region, with a vast majority of the highest rated recruits playing high school football in the Lone Star State. Which prospects made the…
These rival helmet color swaps are revoltingSwapping rival teams' helmet colors? It shouldn't have been done, but someone did it anyway.
Post-July 2017 Top 100 Player RankingsWith the July evaluation periods, Nike Skills Academy, adidas Nations and Under Armour's Elite 24 over, Scout's basketball recruiting team has updated the 2017 top 100. DeAndre…
2017 South Region Top 150The stars are lined up in the 2017 South Top 150 and you can see the full pre-season list here...