Ties to Texas, Big 12 bind coaching newcomers Dykes, McGuire

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Two of the three new head coaches in the Big 12 aren’t really new at all when it comes to the state of Texas, the conference, and the traditional Dallas-area home of the league’s football media days.

TCU’s Sonny Dykes and Joey McGuire at Texas Tech have been there, done that.

Dykes is the son of late former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, was an assistant with the Red Raiders in the early 2000s and even spent a season on the staff of Gary Patterson five years before replacing the longtime Horned Frogs coach.

The 52-year-old has already been a head coach in his home state, having spent the past four seasons at SMU in Dallas, about 30 miles from the TCU campus. But that was the American Athletic Conference. This is the Big 12.

“Look, I love this league,” Dykes said, the last of two media days on the field at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys and site of the Big 12 championship game.

“I’m familiar with a lot of these coaches,” Dykes said. “A lot of these guys, I’ve known them most of my life and most of their lives. I’ve been to games in these stadiums when I was a kid. That felt like home.”

McGuire, a championship-winning high school coach south of Dallas in Cedar Hill, joined the Red Raiders after five years as an assistant at Big 12 rival Baylor. He replaces Matt Wells, who was fired in the middle of his third season last year.

“The one thing I always say, and I believe this, it’s not just a little slogan, but I’m a high school coach that gets to coach college football,” McGuire said. “My DNA is a high school coach.”

The difference is Dykes has left the state, with head-coaching stops at Louisiana Tech and California. After he was fired at Cal, Patterson hired him as an offensive analyst.

McGuire has barely left the Dallas area, where he was born, went to college (Texas-Arlington) and coached for 22 years before straying 100 miles south to Waco.

“I think the Texas high school coaches understand, what we say, we’re going to do, that they can trust us to take care of their players,” McGuire said. “Whenever you can walk into a high coach and the head coach knows, ‘Hey, this guy is what he’s all about, what he says, what he’s going to do,’ it makes a huge impact on those guys.”

Spike Dykes got to see his son in charge of the sideline at Louisiana Tech and Cal, but died less than a year before Sonny Dykes was hired at SMU, which was one of Texas Tech’s rivals in the Southwest Conference. TCU was another SWC foe, and son said dad always thought it was a good job.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Sonny Dykes said. “I think he would have gotten a kick out of me being at SMU. I know he’s looking down and excited about this opportunity and certainly gets a kick out of it.”

RESETTING CYCLONES

Iowa State had its highest-ever preseason ranking at No. 7 last year before a 7-6 season that ended with a loss in the Cheez-It Bowl a year after the Cyclones lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.

The Cyclones will try to bounce back from that disappointment, but will have to do it without quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall, who had consecutive 1,700-yard seasons before bypassing his senior year and going early in the second round of the NFL draft.

“I think I said this a year ago, if we would have ever listened to what people said about Iowa State in the preseason hype, we would have never got our program off the ground,” said coach Matt Campbell, who is going into his seventh season after consistent chatter over several years about him taking a higher-profile job.

Hunter Dekkers will get the first shot at replacing Purdy, a three-year starter, while the task of filling Hall’s void will be considerably tougher.

“The ability to find greatness is the ability to overcome yourself,” Campbell said. “We’ve really tried to find out where we need to continue to grow, why we’ve either taken steps back or taken steps forward, and how do we continue to push forward as a program.”

HEISMAN HOPEFUL

Texas running back Bijan Robinson was the most likely among the players at Big 12 media days to become a Heisman Trophy candidate. So the junior knew the question was coming after he rushed for 1,127 yards, averaged 5.8 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns.

Robinson’s name surfaced a year ago when he had five consecutive 100-yard games, particularly after career highs of 35 carries for 216 yards in a 32-27 victory at TCU.

The last two of those five games were the start of a six-game losing streak, and Robinson missed the final two games after dislocating his elbow in a 57-56 loss to Kansas.

“When everybody on the team is successful and we start winning games, then it’s not just about me,” Robinson said. “It’s about everybody that’s around me that’s getting their awards, too. When we win games, everybody eats on the team. It is a distraction, but when we all eat, then we’ll all succeed together.”

STILL TALKING HORNS DOWN

Once again, Big 12 coordinator of officials Greg Burks got a question about the “Horns Down” signal, this time on whether it was a dead issue. Burks didn’t really say, except to try to lump the gesture in with all taunting situations by labeling it a judgment call.

“Let me be very clear with `Horns Down.’ I have no ownership on this symbol,” Burks said as he flashed both the “up” and “down” version. “This symbol is the same as all other signals. It’s when you do it, who you do it to and which manner you do it.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.