Former UT assistant and Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes joined Mack Brown and the Longhorns at practice on Wednesday.
It had been 26 years since he stood on a football practice field at The University of Texas and fate had taken him several places and brought him significant recognition along the way. However, as he talked to the Longhorns of Coach Mack Brown on Wednesday night, it was clear that one thing had not changed: Spike Dykes has always been about the people, the kids and the game.
"Understand how lucky you are," he said to the 2002 Longhorns and he said it twice. "Enjoy it because you never know when it is going to end."
It was December 1971 when Darrell Royal hired Dykes as an assistant coach, and the guy smiling the most — besides Dykes — was Mike Campbell. Dykes had worked in the cradle of football in Texas, working high school jobs in places like Coahoma, Belton, Big Spring and Alice. Along the way, he had met Campbell, who was Royal's defensive coordinator and chief assistant. The two became great friends and Dykes' role on the UT coaching staff grew steadily.
In 1974, Dykes installed a kickoff return that featured three deep men and some razzle-dazzle fakes and handoffs. The first time the Longhorns ran it — against Boston College that season — Raymond Clayborn went 90-plus yards for a touchdown.
"Well, B.C., welcome to the Southwest Conference," a Boston writer said in the press box. And he said it with the appropriate respect of the times.
But as Dykes said to the team Wednesday, you never know when it will end.
Three seasons later when Royal chose to resign, everybody on the Longhorns staff thought the head coaching job would go to Campbell, who was Royal's choice as his successor, but that was not to be. The UT administration instead chose to hire Fred Akers, a former Longhorns assistant who had been head coach at Wyoming for two seasons.
Campbell always joked that Dykes moved his office in cardboard boxes, in reference to the nomadic life of the high school coach of the times, and the day Campbell didn't get the Texas job, Dykes packed his boxes.
You learn lots of things growing up in Runnels County. A lot of it is about roots, not only of the hoped for cotton crop, but the roots of the people. Loyalty is a quality, not a question. If I remember it right (and a guy from Winters is likely to be mistaken about arch-rival Ballinger), Dykes' Ballinger school song went something like "Yes, we are the noble Bearcats." The noble thing to do was to support your friend.
Dykes moved on and there was stop in New Mexico, at Mississippi State and then a return to the land of West Texas, where he coached at Midland Lee High School.
Then Jerry Moore hired him at Texas Tech as an assistant coach. David McWilliams kept him when he went there for the 1986 season, and when McWilliams left, Athletics Director T Jones hired Dykes as the head coach of the Red Raiders.
It was there that his wit and wisdom was captivating and his football coaching ability shined. Dykes built solid, tough football teams and far away in Austin, Campbell evaluated lots of Red Raiders game tapes and the two talked football and friendship until the day he died in 1998.
When Mack Brown came to Texas in December 1997, he and Dykes nurtured a friendship of two like souls.
Both shared a love of people and a love of the game. So when Dykes stepped out as the Texas Tech coach and moved to Horseshoe Bay, Brown invited him to the annual football letterman's reunion. He's also doing some television work with FOX Sports Net. He even is scheduled to broadcast a couple of the Longhorns' games on pay-per-view this season.
The great part about the Brown/Dykes relationship is that they both respect the value of the Texas high school coaches. They both care about winning but understand that a kid's life and his future should never be sacrificed just for the sake of a one game.
Those values transcend school loyalties and rivalries, it's not about Texas or Texas Tech. For both men, the game of football is about life, with its relationships, its strange turns and funny bounces. They also understand that you play the game as it comes, or as they say in golf, "play it as it lays."
In a different time and place, Dykes dreamed of standing where Brown now stands. Even if he never said it, a guy from Winters understands that much about a guy from Ballinger. Just as he dreamed of standing beside his friend Mike Campbell on the Texas practice field.
"He's got good-looking kids and he's got a good coaching staff," Dykes said as he watched Brown doing his post-practice press conference on Wednesday night.
"Yeah," said his friend. "There are some great athletes out there."
"I'm not talking about that," Dykes said."He's got good kids, good people."
That is why Brown appreciates Dykes. He understands about good people. Folks who know him will tell you that he's lived his life being one.