Sonny Dykes was nearing the end of a season as an off-field offensive analyst at TCU, and pondering his next move.
Fired from his previous head coaching job and with three young kids at home, the son of longtime college coach Spike Dykes even considered a career change after more than two decades in football. He had researched what he would need to do to get a real estate license.
Five years later, the 53-year-old is settled in at home, in Texas, still doing what he always wanted to do and is now near the peak of his profession with TCU (12-1) making it into the four-team College Football Playoff.
“It’s been a lot of things, a culmination of a lot,” said Dykes, who was named Associated Press Coach of the Year in his first season as head coach at the school where he was a consultant for coach Gary Patterson in 2017.
The Horned Frogs, undefeated this season until an overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, will play Big Ten champion Michigan (13-0) in the CFP semifinal Fiesta Bowl on Saturday. TCU is the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma – and first from Texas – to make the CFP.
“Being a Texas guy, the state of Texas means a lot to me, the history of college football in the state of Texas means a lot to me,” Dykes said.
That season working for the Frogs, when they made their only other Big 12 title game, was an opportunity for Dykes to get home after going 19-30 in four seasons at California. The job out West was never really a good fit for the folksy, Texas-born coach.
“I was looking around, trying to get a job and trying to decide … taking a job some place that I didn’t necessarily want to go, was that the direction I wanted to go in,” he said. “I’ve obviously always wanted to coach.”
Then SMU offered him its head coaching job, placing the Big Spring native only about 40 miles and four years away from his eventual return to replace Patterson at TCU. Dykes, whose first head coaching job was at Louisiana Tech, led SMU to 30 wins in its best four-season stretch since it became the only program ever shut down by the so-called NCAA death penalty three decades earlier.
The Frogs went 23-24 during that same time, and parted ways with Patterson even before the end of his 21st season. Dykes was immediately considered the favorite to replace him, and got the job after the regular season.
Dykes grew up in the Lone Star State, where his late father coached at several levels over 38 years. That included Spike’s 14 seasons as the helm of Texas Tech, where the younger Dykes played baseball, not football.
Sonny was a Texas Tech assistant for seven seasons, the first seven after his father retired when on the staff of the late Mike Leach. He went west for the first time as offensive coordinator at Arizona from 2007-09, then had a 22-15 record in three seasons at Louisiana Tech before taking the job at Cal.
Now Dykes leads a TCU program that won its only AP national title in 1938, when quarterback Davey O’Brien became the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner. The Frogs were 13-0 as a member of the Mountain West Conference during a 2010 season that ended with a Rose Bowl victory and No. 2 national ranking.
When TCU wrapped up the 2022 regular season with a win over Iowa State, it was Sonny’s 83rd career win – one more than his father.
“Felt him kind of all year with me,” Dykes said. “He would certainly get a kick out of our guys … what kind of people they are, because it’s a heck of a group and guys that I’m certainly proud of. I know he’d feel the same way.”