Former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes was known for his salty defenses. And his Red Raiders teams loved to run the football and punish teams late in games. It’s why he became the winningest coach in program history.
However, the best part of the games might’ve been Dykes’ press conferences. With his pronounced West Texas drawl, Dykes was a talker, a charmer, a character, someone who’d make anyone feel immediately at ease.
He’d toss out the country one-liners he learned from growing up in Ballinger or on one of his many coaching stops from San Angelo to Midland, from Austin to Alice, even in Starkville, Miss.
Dykes, who retired from football in 1999 and moved to Horseshoe Bay to live a relaxing life of golf and fishing, died Monday of an apparent heart attack. He was 79. His wife, Sharon, preceded him in death after more than a half-century of marriage. He is survived by three children, including Sonny Dykes, who was the head coach at Louisiana Tech and Cal and is now an offensive analyst at TCU.
Memorial services will be held in Lubbock on Thursday and then in Horseshoe Bay on Friday.
Fans, coaches and his former players mourned him mightily after learning of his death. State leaders even were tweeting about Dykes’ impact on them.
The main scoreboard at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock featured a large photo of Dykes, wearing red and waving. “Thank you, coach,” it said.
Dykes was the perfect fit for Tech.
He was born across the street from campus. His dad was a cotton ginner. Dykes grew up in Oasis near the New Mexico border, then his family settled in Ballinger. Dykes played center for the high school and helped lead his team to the Class 2A state finals. He played football for Stephen F. Austin, then decided to be a high school coach.
Darrell Royal gave him his first college job in 1972. While at Texas, Dykes coached freshmen, special teams and the offensive and defensive lines. He stayed with Royal in Austin until Royal retired in 1976.
Dykes found his way to Tech in 1984 as defensive coordinator. In 1986, when David McWilliams left Tech to become head coach at UT, Dykes was promoted.
He compiled an 82-67-1 record. Tech qualified for seven bowl games and he coached nine All-Americans, with two Doak Walker winners and a Butkus Award finalist. He was honored as Southwest Conference coach of the year three times. He won the same honor in 1996, the first year of the Big 12. He was so beloved at Tech that the athletic director gave him a 10-year contract during one of the few losing seasons.
Toward the end of his time at Tech, Dykes would tell folks, “they say you lose 10 percent of your fan base every year. And I’ve been here 11 years, so you do the math.”
Dykes’ Raiders beat Texas and Texas A&M six times apiece. No other Raiders coach was as successful against the state’s two premiere programs.
“So sad we lost my great friend. … Coach Spike Dykes this morning. Great coach and better man. Will be missed by many!” tweeted former Texas coach Mack Brown, who lost to Dykes in Lubbock in 1998.
Former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum, who attended the 2008 ceremony when Dykes was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, said on Twitter: “Sad day today. Lost a great friend and great coach. A Legend-Coach Spike Dykes. R.I.P. My friend.”
Dykes’ final victory was a home upset of Oklahoma. His decision that day to start a freshman quarterback — Kliff Kingsbury — continues to impact the Tech program.
Kingsbury is now Tech’s head coach.
“Words cannot describe what coach Dykes meant to West Texas, Texas Tech University, this program and me, personally,” Kingsbury said in a statement. “He was a great coach and an even better person. He will forever be remembered as one of the all-time greatest Red Raiders.”
In retirement, Dykes would give speeches. A few days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he made the crowd at the San Antonio Quarterback Club laugh, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
He said: “If anybody cries at my funeral, get them out of here. You talk about a guy who has cut the heart out of a watermelon. I’ve lived at the best time of the history of the world.”