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Profile of a Possible Savior: Sonny Dykes

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Could the young son of the winningest coach in Texas Tech history revitalize the Pack program with his gunslingin' "Air Raid" offense?

Is that emotion I see on the sidelines?
Is that emotion I see on the sidelines?
Bob Levey

Multiple sources indicate that Sonny Dykes is interviewing today for the vacant head coaching position at N. C. State. That the interview is taking place just three days after the announcement that Tom O'Brien was fired has led to speculation that Wolfpack Athletics Director Dr. Debbie Yow has already laid the groundwork for a deal with the Louisiana Tech coach. With a number of high profile vacancies, it will certainly behoove the Wolfpack brass to act fast before all of the saviors are snapped up by the Pontius Pilates of the world (SEC).

Will Dykes get the job, leading to this the one and only Profile of a Possible Savior? If so, let's hope we get this up before the ink is dry on the contract. If not, I am fired up about the soon-to-come reader submissions.

On to the POAPS:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a conference title, made multiple bowl games, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

Dykes won the WAC conference title in his second year as the head man at Louisiana Tech in 2011, winning seven straight games to close the regular season, running the Bulldogs' record to 6-1 in league play in the process. An out of conference win over the SEC's Ole Miss was included in that streak.

Tech slumped to third in the WAC behind very solid Utah State and San Jose State programs in 2012, but Dykes had his team ranked as high as 19th and will go bowling for the second straight season after a 9-3 finish. Tech lost the Poinsettia Bowl by a touchdown last season against 16th ranked TCU.

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

Dykes followed Derek Dooley at Louisiana Tech. Dooley is noted for his recruiting ability, so presumably the shelves were reasonably well stocked by WAC standards when Dykes arrived on campus in Ruston, LA. However, Dooley's teams were just 17-20 in his three seasons at the helm, which leads us to our next question...

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

Absolutely. La. Tech was 4-8 in Dooley's last season, improved to 5-7 in the first year under Dykes, 8-5 the next season, and 9-3 this year. After a 1-4 start in 2011 that included a one-point loss to Houston, a two-point loss to Southern Miss, and a six-point loss to Mississippi State, La. Tech ran off 12 wins in 13 games over the past two seasons. In that span, Dykes conquered BCS foes Ole Miss, Illinois, and Virginia, and the loss that snapped the string was at Texas A & M by a mere two points. Yes, the same Texas A & M that beat Alabama. Before the Male Techsters closed the season on a two-game slide, they had a legitimate shot at crashing the BCS party.

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

No, the Louisiana Tech job is his first job as a head coach.

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

Yes, Dykes has been an assistant at Kentucky, Texas Tech, and Arizona. He coached under "Air Raid" offense gurus Hal Mumme and Mike Leach in stints at UK and Texas Tech, respectively. And his father, Spike, is a legendary former Red Raiders head man, so big time football is in his blood.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

Yes, though a late season swoon dropped Louisiana Tech behind Utah State and San Jose State. Those foes, which rank one and two in the WAC, were Dykes' only conference setbacks, and, as noted above, Louisiana Tech won the league a year ago.

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

In short, no, no they do not. Louisiana Tech is 118th in the FBS, allowing 38.5 points per game. And you cannot blame it on tempo; Tech surrenders 6.54 yards per play, 117th in the FBS. Tech was much, much better in 2011 (23.2 ppg/41st and 4.91 ypp/24th) and somewhat better in 2010 (30.7 ppg/90th and 6.04/97th), but the lack of defense is definitely a concern, and "Air Raid" offense programs have had a hard time shaking the defensively deficient label.

The FEI defensive efficiency rankings put Louisiana Tech 115th this season, an insane drop from 34th last season, yet the team has won 9 games, which is surely a testament to the potency of the "Air Raid."

8. Any indication that he can recruit ACC-level (or above) talent?

By all accounts, Dykes' reputation as a recruiter during his days as an assistant was excellent. That reputed success, perhaps not surprisingly given Louisiana Tech's relatively low station in the college football landscape, has not carried over in his stint as a head coach, at least if you put stock in the "stahs" rankings of the recruiting services. Dykes' three classes at La. Tech have ranked 90th, 96th, and 83rd according to Rivals. Dykes has never signed a player with a rating higher than three stars.

Interestingly, that 83rd-ranked class from 2011 bettered Tom O'Brien's 86th-ranked class. The assumption was that O'Brien would have greater success at N. C. State than at Boston College because he would recruit better football players. Then he didn't. It has to be assumed that Dykes would recruit not only better players to State than he did to Tech, but that he would out-recruit TOB as well. But it is only an assumption.

Regardless, his team likely would have had the third best record in the ACC this year even with La. Tech level talent.

9. Does his offense run more than five plays?

There are about two running plays, but eleventybillion pass plays based on the principle that the field is too damn big to cover if you have proper spacing in your routes. For about one million words on the evolution of the "Air Raid," please click here. You may lose your job to that link, but it is still worth it (it is safe for work, just requires several hours of your time).

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, the state of North Carolina, or the ACC?

Dykes has no connections that I am aware of, which is a bit of a concern as far as making recruiting inroads in the southeast. Hopefully he could tote some talent from the gulf region and Texas with him while he is getting himself established in ACC territories. Certainly a few smart, tactical hires on his staff could also help alleviate any recruiting deficiencies in a new region.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

For some the association with Mike Leach could be a red flag, but he isn't Mike Leach just because he coached with him. Personally, I kind of dig Leach's zany antics from afar but would probably tire of him fast if he were my team's coach. I doubt Dykes is really that into pirates.

Others might point to the fact that he never played college football as a red flag, but I fail to find any logic in that argument. If a kid won't listen to a coach because "he hasn't been there," that's a kid you don't want in your program anyway. Very few top college coaches were stars in major college football. It's a nonissue/problem.

Here's a positive: his team has finished the regular season ranked at least eight spots higher in the overall FEI rankings than N. C. State in each of the last two seasons. Which leads us to the next question...


Would he be better than TOB?

Dykes' ceiling would definitely be higher than 7-8 wins + a bowl, but his floor is potentially lower as well. He has only been a head coach for three years; what if his entire system crashed and burned like his defense did in 2012?

His track record, brief as it is, and the fact that he would spice things up considerably after the respectable but boring TOB regime, makes me think it is a gamble worth taking. And perhaps, given that his La. Tech teams are ALREADY better than N. C. State in recent seasons, it's not really that big of a gamble.

Would he be better than Chuck?

Yes. Chuck recruited well but under delivered on the field every year about as bad as TOB did this year.

Would he take the job if offered?

This is definitely not a given. I am sure his agent will gauge the interest at Auburn, Arkansas, and Tennessee before they pull the trigger on a contract at N. C. State.

How would I feel if he were hired?

I'd be geeked. AMP even. I don't think my passion waivered for N. C. State football during the disappointing* TOB years, but due to the decline in season ticket sales and due to the general malaise that has descended on the program for most casual fans, I see that O'Brien's removal was necessary, and that going in as far opposite of a direction as TOB philosophically speaking in terms of recruiting/style of play is also necessary.

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

Look at all those shiny points!

***Special All New POAPS Features***

How old is this dude?

Dykes is just 43, making him one of the younger FBS-level coaches and someone who can hopefully relate to the kids these days. His age also means he could see N. C. State as a stepping stone to a bigger gig down the road. Overall, I find his youth to be a positive; it certainly continues the theme of him being the anti-TOB.

Does a Google image search of the man inspire confidence? If not, what does it inspire?

I must say that I was a bit reluctant to include the name "Dykes" in a search at the workplace. Alas, Google kept things on the up and up, though there was a random shot of Little Debbie. Actually, looking at Sonny Dykes might make one think immediately of Little Debbie snack cakes. Dude is not a workout enthusiast; his chin swims in an abyss of neck fat. But, even if he will not fill out a pair of orange slacks like Derek Dooley, he is not the Fridge or anything.

Ultimately, I look at him and I think equal parts John Madden and accountant. An odd combination to be sure, but one that actually does inspire confidence. A young Madden's enthusiasm and big personality plus an accountant's attention to detail? Sounds like the perfect coach.

*I should say that there was a lot NOT disappointing about TOB. The old marine represented the university with class and would be exactly the type of person I would want my son to play for.