The Dallas Morning News
Dead at 79, beloved former Tech coach was one of a kind
An early stop on Spike Dykes’ long, winding road to Texas Tech and everlasting glory as the king of coaching characters was San Angelo, where he worked for Emory Bellard, inventor of the Wishbone. Unfortunately, Spike was also the swimming coach. To say he wasn’t particularly suited for the position is being kind. Had he fallen into the pool, he might have drowned.
Nevertheless, he coached ’em up as best he could, in a style uniquely Spike’s.
“Remember to hold your breath,” he told his charges, “and never get too far from the bank.”
Spike, whose heart gave out Monday at 79, may have been more beloved by his peers than any winning coach in the annals of Texas football. He was a favorite of Gordon Wood, the legendary Texas high school coach; a match for his old boss, Darrell Royal, punch line for punch line; and a godsend to sportswriters desperate for something to fluff up a withered lead.
“I wanted to make it clear, I quit because of my health. The alumni got sick of me.”
Spike Dykes on his 1999 departure from Texas Tech
Trust me, there wasn’t anybody who didn’t like Spike. Certainly not in my business.
The fact that he could coach a little, too, nearly seems beside the point. But it’s all right there in the numbers: In 13 seasons at Tech, he won more games than anyone in school history until his successor, Mike Leach, broke his record. He was named Southwest Conference Coach of the Year three times and Big 12 Coach of the Year once.
If he won only two of his seven bowl games, he also beat Texas and Texas A&M six times each.
Not that anyone took it personally.
“Kids loved him, high school coaches loved him, the media loved him,” said R.C. Slocum, the long-time Aggies coach.
“He was hard to compete against, because I loved him, too.”
Probably helped that he was as humble as he was funny, and there wasn’t a mean bone in his body. His good nature sprang from his roots, which he never outgrew. He was as West Texas as a dust devil. His voice bore the quality of an idling chain saw, and his conversation sounded like it could have been scripted by Will Rogers. He once described a longtime assistant, Dick Winder, as looking “beat up and wore out.” Van Gogh couldn’t have painted a better image.
Besides San Angelo, Spike worked in so many out-of-theway places that his résumé could have been an old West Texas road map: Eastland, Ballinger, Coahoma, Belton, Big Spring and Alice. Everywhere he went, he left a trail of stories.
His first day in San Angelo, Spike had lunch with the school superintendent. Over chicken-fried steaks, a bottle of ketchup proved stubborn, so Spike gave it a couple of hard whacks.
Looked up, and the ketchup had squirted across the table, smack dab on the superintendent’s tie.
“My first day on the job,” he’d say, recounting the episode, “and I thought I was gonna get fired.”
Spike’s legend picked up steam when he joined Royal’s staff in ’72. No one was more colorful on the recruiting trail.
Working the wide spaces of West Texas, he fashioned a primitive version of cruise control: a putter wedged on the accelerator. Police boostergroup stickers covered his bumper as a peace offering.
Once in a living room, he was hard to beat. But he made it interesting. He once got himself stuck on a treadmill, suit and tie and all. Perspiring and gasping for breath, he was finally rescued by the recruit’s mother, who pulled the plug.
One of his more harrowing stories found him on a couch next to an assistant when he noticed a visitor between them, an appearance oblivious to their hosts.
“Which is surprising,” Dykes wrote in Tales from the Texas Tech Sideline, “because it was the biggest rat I’d ever seen.”
Fortunately, Dykes didn’t panic, and he got his man. He won more of those visits than he probably had a right to. Willing to concede size for quality, he took chances on 5-4, 126-pound Tyrone Thurman, who became an AllAmerica returner, and linebacker Zach Thomas, who went on to a long NFL career.
The opportunity to be a college head coach was a long time coming. Once Royal retired after the ’76 season, Spike worked at New Mexico and Mississippi State before heading back to West Texas’s Midland Lee. Jerry Moore hired him at Tech, but when Moore was fired, officials passed over Spike in favor of David McWilliams.
When McWilliams went back to Texas after one season, Spike finally got the job he’d always wanted, calling it “the greatest moment of my life.” He was 48.
“To me, that’s one of the things that I’ll always carry in my heart,” said former Baylor coach Grant Teaff, who’s known Spike 50 years.
“He was one of the greatest coaches ever to come out of Texas high schools.”
You might call it a stretch to say Spike was born to coach at Tech, but it was close enough. He came out of a hospital across the street from campus.
Said Teaff, once a Tech assistant: “You couldn’t design somebody better for that job.”
Even the model West Texan eventually wore out his welcome with the fan base, though. Forced out after the ’99 season, he took the high road, as usual.
“A lot of people don’t ever have any fun in their job, but I had a ball,” he said after his last game, an upset of Oklahoma. “I had a ball every day.” The feeling was mutual, Spike.