Former ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes leads Arkansas women to NCAA tourney

(L-R) Jimmy Dykes, former longtime ESPN college basketball analyst who now coaches the Arkansas women's team, joined analyst Nell Fortner and host Maria Taylor on the set of SEC Now after a Razorbacks' game in early March.
(L-R) Jimmy Dykes, former longtime ESPN college basketball analyst who now coaches the Arkansas women’s team, joined analyst Nell Fortner and host Maria Taylor on the set of SEC Network’s SEC Now after a Razorbacks’ SEC Tournament game.

Even a year removed from his duties as an ESPN college basketball analyst, Jimmy Dykes played the role of media maven Monday night.

When ESPN’s Selection Monday coverage revealed that the Arkansas Razorbacks earned an at-large bid to play in the 2015 NCAA Women’s Tournament Championship, Dykes – now the first-year head coach of the program – recorded his players’ ensuing celebration on his cell phone. The Razorbacks’ media office captured the scene.

The former Arkansas star guard and assistant coach on the Razorbacks’ NCAA-contending teams in the 1980s leads the No. 10-seeded Arkansas women (17-13) into the Waco, Texas Regional to face No. 7 Northwestern in first-round action (Friday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Dykes spent 10 years at ESPN (1995-2014) as a game and studio analyst for men’s basketball and he also worked early-round games of the women’s national tournament. He accepted the Arkansas coaching job in March 2014.

Front Row caught up with him to get his thoughts.

Jimmy Dykes playing for the University of Arkansas (Credit: University of Arkansas)
Jimmy Dykes was a three-year letterman for the University of Arkansas in the 1980s.
(Credit: University of Arkansas)

What’s been the toughest part about transitioning from the ESPN job to coaching?
It’s been a very smooth and seamless transition for me and for my family. I have been in coaching before so I knew what to expect on the court. What was really important is that it was a good transition for my family as well. We live about 10 minutes from campus, and did the entire time I worked for ESPN, so we didn’t have to change churches, schools or even move when I took over at Arkansas. That security and home-life balance has allowed me to focus on my job and lay the foundation for what we hope are many years of success for the Razorbacks.

What did you learn at ESPN that’s helped you as a coach?

I was, in essence, an on-air coach when I worked for ESPN. I studied film, attended hundreds of practices and talked to the best minds in all of college and professional basketball. As an analyst, it was important for me to anticipate what a coach might call during a timeout or at a critical juncture in a game so that I could convey that to the viewers. I make those same decisions as a coach on the sidelines at Arkansas.

By Friday you might be the only person who’s been a player on men’s NCAA tournament rosters, coached (as an assistant) in the men’s NCAA tournament, coached in the women’s NCAA tournament and also have experience as an ESPN women’s tournament game analyst. What’s it like to have those unique distinctions?
You know, I haven’t even thought about that. I know that I am honored and blessed to have done each of those things but right now, I’m just focused on our team and advancing through our mini four-team tournament in Waco. I’m so proud of our players and staff and we are excited that our season continues this week. I guess the only thing I haven’t done in the NCAA tourney is officiate or sing the national anthem. I could give it a shot if this coaching thing doesn’t work out.

Editor’s Note: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 and ESPN FULL COURT will present all 63 games from the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship for the 13th consecutive year from March 20-April 7.

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