Sonny Dykes Kicks Off a New Era
TCU’s new football coach takes over amid Big 12 Conference shifts and NIL deals.
Bringing experience from coaching in a handful of conferences, Coach Dykes said he chose TCU because of alignment at the top and support from the community. The former SMU coach will focus on acquiring talent, developing players and building culture.
Why is TCU for you?
Number one is alignment and support. At the top with Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. and Jeremiah Donati, they are incredibly aligned in terms of what they want TCU Athletics to look like, specifically football. They’re both supportive and have made significant investments in football: We have beautiful facilities; our student-athletes have great access to everything they need to become better players and perform better in the classroom. The alignment and the university’s commitment to football and to the student-athlete are where it begins for me.
The city of Fort Worth and TCU have done an incredible job of working together. That true partnership was attractive to me. Even though greater Fort Worth is the 12th largest city in the country, it’s still a college town at heart. TCU is really the only show in town.
It’s a great time to live in Fort Worth. From a family standpoint, it just felt like it was the right move for us.
I’ve had some success in Dallas at SMU, and when that happens to you, a certain level of comfort and complacency sets in. I’ve always tried to make sure we don’t become complacent. I wanted to see if my model of football would work at the very highest level — at TCU in the Big 12 — as we compete against some of the best universities in the country.
Was TCU’s position in the Big 12 a factor in your decision to work here?
A big part of it. That was very appealing. Having grown up in Texas, I think the Big 12 Conference is really representative of Texas college football. We have the opportunity to compete against some of the old rivals dating back to the Southwest Conference days. Those natural rivalries have really flourished in this league.
Even with the changes coming, I think the league is incredibly well-positioned to continue to get stronger and stronger. The Big 12 Conference is the premier league in college basketball now. I think it’s going to continue to become one of the premier leagues in college football.
The resources that come with being in the Big 12, from a financial standpoint and a fan base standpoint, are so different than being in another conference.
How do you see the next few years playing out in the Big 12 Conference?
A lot of changes are coming. I don’t think that any of us really know what it’s going to look like, which I think is good. Sometimes you can get caught up in that. Your focus needs to be the 6 inches in front of your own face: making sure you’re doing everything you can to improve your program, continuing to recruit and acquire talent at the very highest level, developing that talent and creating a great culture.
The three keys to success are talent acquisition, player development and the culture that sustains those two things.
What does that actually look like?
It’s recruiting 24/7. Fortunately, we’re in a great metropolitan area that I think has the best high school football anywhere in the world. We’ve been able to recruit locally, which is going to be critically important to us as we continue to grow our brand. Being known as DFW’s Big 12 team is important for us. It means gaining not only the support of TCU fans, the metroplex and the state, but also college football fans. People who might have gone to another institution, we want to make sure that if they live in DFW that they’re coming and supporting their local team.
What about nationally?
It begins by recruiting in our own backyard and recruiting in the state of Texas. Some of the more national things will take care of themselves as our brand grows. It’s like anything else — you’ve got to be successful. Our goal is to win as quickly as possible and continue to improve our roster year-round, every single day. We try to find a creative way to improve, to find players, to get guys here, to trim the fat in the roster. As we do that, the brand becomes more appealing; as the brand becomes more appealing, your reach becomes a little bit greater and more significant.
From your experience at Navarro College, what kind of perspective advantage do you think you have regarding the transfer portal?
I’ve seen it from every different angle. Coaching not only at a junior college, but coaching in the SEC, Pac 12, WAC, American and the Big 12 conferences, I’ve had a chance to see a lot of different perspectives. A great feather in our cap is being a great institution — getting a degree from TCU is very meaningful. That certainly appeals to older players and graduate transfers. When you start talking to student-athletes about having an opportunity to get a degree from TCU, that moves the needle. We’re constantly trying to sell the academic strength of this university.
When it comes to recruiting, our players are the best salesmen that we have because they have great experiences going to school here.
You were an English teacher early in your career. Do you still feel like you’re in that role?
I feel I teach life in a lot of ways. Our students come from so many different backgrounds. We’re trying to get all the people to come together and to sacrifice for each other. We feel like we’re constantly having an opportunity to teach.
One lesson we try to teach more than anything else is to try to put yourself in other people’s shoes. Each student views the world differently based on their background. Perspectives are valuable and need to be respected. We try to get them to take more of a worldview on issues, step outside their comfort zone and change their perspective.
How are you balancing that desire to shift to a bigger perspective as a team in this era of name, image and likeness rules?
It’s hard. We’re telling our guys the most important thing is the team. We all want to make sacrifices for the team, and that begins with me. None of this is about me; it can’t ever be about me. We talk to our coaches about that all the time — about the importance of working together and being collaborative — because our players pick up on that. It’s hard when the world is saying “get yours,” “get what you can.” At the same time, there’s that whole idea of sacrificing for each other. But I do think those two ideas could coexist. There’s a time and a place for everything, and student-athletes, in my opinion, deserve a lot of the things and a lot of the opportunities that they’re being afforded now. At the same time, there’s danger to the team concept.
“This is TCU’s team. This team belongs to the alumni, to the student body and to the players.”
Part of our job as coaches is to manage our players’ expectations when it comes to opportunity. We want our players to feel like they’re being compensated, but at the same time, we want to build the strongest team culture that we can.
What is the vision?
We talk about accountability, about being accountable to each other. We all have a job to do, and to do our job the very best we can. The standard of excellence is really where it starts. We tell our student-athletes: If you can make an A in a class, it’s really important that you make an A. The idea of getting by doesn’t need to exist. We want to try to achieve at the very highest level that we’re capable of achieving, whether it’s in the classroom or in their interactions with each other and with fellow students.
We talk about investing in each other. When the players are so invested in each other and in the program that they begin to coach and inspire each other, the true magic starts to happen. That’s when success starts.
Will your family be attending games?
Oh, yeah. The kids have already been to basketball games and football practices. One thing I love about being in higher education is that you feel like you’re part of a big family. Having a chance to support the other sports is a lot of fun. It’s really fun to see other sports have success. It’s fun to go share in those victories and invest in the university. There’s so much going on at TCU and so much to be excited about. I think it’s really inspiring for our kids.
You can feel the energy walking into Amon G. Carter Stadium. You can feel the love from the students that they have for this university.
Will your kids be Bleacher Creatures?
Without a doubt, yes. My youngest son is 5. He’ll definitely be the most excited guy to be out there running the field before the game.
You’ve opened practice to media and to spectators. Why is that something you chose to do?
No. 1: This isn’t my football team. This is TCU’s team. This team belongs to the alumni, to the student body and to the players. We want them to be able to see it and be a part of sharing in those experiences.
The second thing is that I’m really proud of the way we run our program. We want people to see our guys practice — to see how hard they work, how unselfish they are, how much they invest in each other. I want people to see how our coaches engage players, try to motivate them and try to improve.
The third thing is when fans have a chance to come to practice and be around these young people, they’re always incredibly impressed with what kind of character they have, how hard they work, how much they sacrifice for each other. That’s how supporters are born. Name, image and likeness opportunities come to players when business owners come to practice and find out how impressive they are as young people — their character and work ethic. They’re going to want our athletes to represent their brand.
Who is your favorite coach?
It’s probably a pretty lame answer, but I’d say my dad.
Spike Dykes is a Texas Tech legend.
I got a chance to watch him in his career. I had a real appreciation for the relationships he made with the players, fans and staff. He was a really, really good football coach, but he was great at relationships.
Who else has influenced you in your career?
My Coronado High School baseball coach, John Dudley — I was impressed with what kind of man he was. He had a tremendous work ethic — was always consistent, never wavered. That made a big impression on me as a high schooler.
In football, I was lucky to work with Hal Mumme and Mike Leach, two outside-the-box thinkers who had a lot to do with my development as a football coach. They had unwavering confidence in our system and believed if you did things the right way that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
You were on the coaching staff at Arizona when Rob Gronkowski was on the team. Did you stay in contact?
We’re still talking fairly regularly. He’s had a great career. I’m proud of him. He’s an interesting character. He’s just like he looks in real life. He’s a super fun guy to be around.
Your arrival at TCU was a big event. Whose idea was the helicopter?
Certainly not mine. I’m a little bit more low-key than that. I thought that it was creative and cool. My kids thought it was awesome.
— Trisha Spence
Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.