The career of a football coach is a winding, circuitous affair full of fits and starts, hirings and firings, promotions and demotions.
It is a hectic lifestyle, one in which the No. 1 phone number on speed dial may be the baby sitter, but No. 2 is a real estate agent.
But no matter where the journeys of Mike Leach and Sonny Dykes take them, their paths seemingly can’t help but cross. A relationship that began as an experiment in offensive innovation has taken them from the Commonwealth of Kentucky all the way to the West Coast, with a pit stop in Lubbock, Texas, of course.
When Leach took over as coach at Texas Tech University in 2000 he brought along an offensive-minded young coach named Sonny Dykes, who was a graduate assistant when Leach was offensive coordinator at Kentucky. Spike Dykes – Leach’s predecessor at Texas Tech– was Sonny’s dad.
“I don’t think either of us ever envisioned ending up where we have,” Dykes said, “but we’re glad we are where we are.”
Where Leach and Dykes are is coaching the teams at Washington State and California, respectively. Those roles will pit them against each other Saturday in Berkeley, Calif., in a critical match-up for both teams.
What started in Kentucky will be tested in a good, old-fashioned western shootout when Leach’s Air Raid offense tests Dykes’ Bear Raid variation in a contest to see which one can pile up the most passing yards the fastest. It will not be a banner day for the running backs.
In a time when the hectic life of a coach means recruiting until your voice is hoarse and watching video until your eyes cross, there isn’t enough time to slap the backs of boosters, let alone maintain friendships. But with similar offenses and a shared history, Leach and Dykes try to keep in touch, even if it’s hard.
“We see each other some at the head coach stuff or the conference stuff, so we see each other several times a year,” Leach said. “We text some, I haven’t for a while. The last time I saw him was at media days.”
Coaching trees spread for a reason, and there’s little doubt that successful coaches breed success simply because of the wisdom imparted to their protégés.
And as Leach’s former assistants acquire programs of their own and build their offenses in his image, the wisdom imparted by the old coach remains unchanged.
“Mike’s got an ability to focus on the things that really matter in football and sort through the things that really matter,” Dykes said. “One of the biggest things you learn from him is, ‘This is how you win and lose football games. These are the important things and make sure you’re good at those things.’ ”
Saturday’s game will be a snapshot in time, a footnote in the careers of Leach and Dykes. And their careers will veer and swerve on and off course until they again intersect. Probably next year.