Keep those blinders on, Jimmy Dykes. Don't change a thing. I like you just fine.
That was my message to Dykes on Thursday when we visited on the criticism he's received for his top-notch analysis of the Arkansas victory over Texas on Tuesday night for ESPN.
I watched a TV replay of the game after I got home. It kept me up late, but I thought Dykes was outstanding. I left early Wednesday for a fishing trip and was stunned when I read some of the Internet message boards Thursday with complaints that Dykes talked too much about Texas. Some thought he was a Longhorn homer. Ridiculous.
What I heard when I sat down for the replay was a fantastic national analyst telling us exactly what was taking place on the court. He talked up Texas when the Longhorns were rolling the first 30 minutes. They controlled the paint, throwing their big bodies around. And, when the Hogs took over down the stretch, he was just as complimentary of the home team.
Dykes lives in Northwest Arkansas. He could go anywhere in the country for his base, but loves it here. It's where he went to school and met his wife, a former member of the UA spirit squad. He is a former UA player and loves the Razorbacks. He is proud to say he's a Razorback, now and forever.
But what Razorback fans must realize, they want Dykes to do UA games with blinders. They don't want a cheerleader doing their games. They should want national audiences to believe everything good he says about the Hogs. If he says only the good, or goes too heavy on the good, he will lose national credibility — faster than Oklahoma and Texas got out of town after taking their whippings.
I watched Dykes on ESPN with Rece Davis and Steve Lavin on their college basketball show last night. Davis asked the two former coaches to name their surprise team of this season. Lavin got first pick and took California. That's not a bad pick. New coach Mike Montgomery has the Bears rolling after they were picked near the bottom of the Pac-10.
Dykes had about 30 seconds to decide on his pick. He settled on the Hogs.
"I went through some choices in my mind really quickly," Dykes said. "It could have been South Carolina. They were picked pretty far down in preseason and are playing well. I also thought about Baylor, Michigan or Minnesota. The next team I filtered through my mind was right here in my own backyard, the Razorbacks."
Dykes was impressed with the way John Pelphrey handled freshman point guard Courtney Fortson in the first half against Texas.
"Fortson got two early fouls and John took him out," Dykes said. "He put him back in and Fortson immediately lowered his head and went into the lane. John got him back out and talked to him. John has a great feel on how to handle that team."
Dykes was hard on the Hogs during part of the game, but it matched the conversations Dudley Dawson and I were having on press row. Without any doubt, Dykes set the scene well.
"I've talked with Kirk Herbstreit about the way he calls the Ohio State-Michigan games," Dykes said. "He's an Ohio State graduate. Andre Ware is from Houston. But if we are going to work for ESPN, we have to take that out of it. Our job is to analyze the game. No where in the job description does it allow for us to be cheerleaders for Ohio State, Houston or Arkansas. It never will be that way.
"I'm a UA grad. Certainly, I will always have interest in the Razorbacks. If I'm doing a game somewhere, I promise I'm looking at the bottom line on the screen to see the Arkansas score.
"I've got a relationship with John Pelphrey. I coached him. I have great interest in how he does. I have already established a relationship with Rotnei Clarke. I have a vested interest in the program.
"But I can't be a cheerleader. The same goes for Kentucky, where I've coached. Or with UALR, where I coached. There are also a number of other schools where I have close friends. I have to call their games all the same way — with blinders. I've got to breakdown what happens."
Dykes is one of the best in the business and one of ESPN's rising stars. If he called the Hogs hot, then Dykes is red hot. That's great news for Razorback fans whether all of them realize it or not.
State of the Hogs: Jimmy Dykes
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