FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) With his first season back on the sidelines in more than 20 years behind him, Arkansas coach Jimmy Dykes is more committed than ever to coaching.
The first-year Razorbacks coach made that clear on Monday, a day following a season-ending loss to Baylor in the NCAA Tournament.
Dykes also made it clear he’s back in the coaching business for the long haul, not some kind of publicity stunt as some wondered when he was surprisingly hired by Arkansas following last season.
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Led by Dykes, the former ESPN basketball analyst, the Razorbacks (18-14) earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012 this season – winning their opening game as a No. 10 seed over Northwestern before losing to the second-seeded Lady Bears 73-44 on Sunday.
They did so thanks to a difficult non-conference schedule and the growing comfort level of their first-year- coach whose last coaching job was as an assistant for Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State from 1990-91.
And one who had never coached at all in the women’s game.
”If I had been an assistant women’s basketball coach the last 15 years as opposed to working for ESPN, you’ve got to go through it now as a head coach,” Dykes said. ”And I have been through it now as a head coach. I’ve ran a whole lap now as a head coach, and I hopefully have about nine laps to go is how I look at it.”
Arkansas reached the tournament despite opening 1-6 in the Southeastern Conference, where it finished 6-10 overall. However, the Razorbacks’ postseason case was bolstered by wins over NCAA Tournament teams Iowa and Oklahoma out of conference.
Also, they benefited from the quick learning curve of Dykes, who credited a 52-47 win over Auburn on Jan. 29 – when Arkansas was 1-6 in the SEC – for helping turn the season around.
The Razorbacks won five of seven conference games beginning with that victory, responding to the now-or-never challenge issued to them by Dykes on the sidelines late in that game.
Despite Arkansas’ success this season, Dykes is well aware he’ll never be able to fully quell the doubts of those who questioned his credentials when he was hired.
And that’s just fine with him.
”I’ve learned a lot; I continue to know what I don’t know,” Dykes said. ”I continue to trust my staff, I continue to trust my players, and anyone that was critical of me being hired, I can’t control that. I can’t control how people feel about me, right or wrong.”
Prior to the Razorbacks game against Baylor, Dykes said Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey jokingly told him ”If this coaching thing doesn’t work out, you can always get back into broadcasting.”
After the blowout loss, Dykes reiterated his commitment to coaching – now and in the future.
”For anyone out there that just thinks this is something I’m going to try for a couple of years, they’re wrong,” Dykes said. ”I’m bound and determined, this is building block number one for us and the Arkansas women’s program.”