At the mere mentioning of Spike Dykes’ name, a Gatorade cooler of memories pours from those who knew him. Every word we’ve heard and every sentence we’ve read overflows with love for this treasured coach.
More than an athlete, a leader or a friend, Dykes was the man we all wish to be. He was a man who radiated joy, who invested deeply and who cared abundantly. He was a loyal man, never straying from his West Texas roots.
As the news of his death spread across the country, equal measures of pain and pride inundated the Red Raider community. We were reminded of the unfathomable expanse of sacrifices made by countless individuals to forge this university.
And, when a generation born on the eve of Dykes’ retirement has heard again and again his celebrated name, there is no denying the significance of it.
As millennials, we were born past the heyday of Dykes. Yet, his death evoked an inexplicable sorrow and empathy in the students at Tech. The calls Dykes made on the football field 20 years ago still echo on this campus. You can hear the symphony of his contributions through the greatness Texas Tech radiates.
Throughout the past several days, we have learned a lot more about this remarkable man and the massive impact he made on Tech.
In terms of athletics, Spike Dykes embodied Texas Tech football. Only surpassed in wins by Mike Leach, Dykes’ career at Tech was well acquainted with victory.
The dominant nature of his teams combined with his record of 82-67-1 is historic. The defensively focused teams Dykes coached are hard to imagine in this current age of “air-raid” offense.
However, after talking with many of Dykes’ friends and peers, we realized how personal of an impact he made on his players, fellow colleagues and members of the Lubbock community.
One of the truths we heard over and over again was — no matter who Dykes was speaking with — he focused on that person and acted like nothing was more important than the conversation he was having in that moment. The people who interacted with him wanted to be more like him, and every one of them felt liked by him.
This coach, rallying his team with drawled encouragement, set himself apart by not caring about whether he set himself apart. Never was Dykes concerned about his legacy, which is ironic considering he left as one of the greatest. From the stories we’ve heard, he was too busy investing in his players, friends, coworkers and family to care about glorifying himself.
A glowing example of what it means to strive for honor, Dykes embodied the Red Raider identity with grace and dignity. He plowed through a metaphorical defensive line, forging a path for future coach Leach.
Several of us didn’t grow up as Red Raider fans. Yet, we still knew who Spike Dykes was because he was more than just the Tech football coach. He was a man who taught people around him how to be a better person.
They say people never speak ill of the dead, and for the most part, we believe that to be true. But, in coach Dykes’ case, no one could bare to speak ill of him. This was not because he is dead, but because there is truly nothing bad to say about him.
In fact, most people thanked him for being in their lives. And that’s what stands out the most to us. Considering all the people he came across in his 79 years, it is remarkable he did not leave a bad impression on anyone.
This was exemplified by a story our sports editor Alexa Boutwell shared with us. When Boutwell learned of Dykes’ death, she immediately called her grandfather. Many years ago he had been approached by Dykes to play football for Tech.
Even though he turned down the offer, so he could play at Oklahoma, when Boutwell told the news to her grandfather, he was devastated. During their phone call, there was a period of silence on the other end of the line.
It was followed by her grandfather’s shaky voice saying, “That man was an amazing coach. If only I would have said yes and played for him.”
Proven by this, in the world of sports, people often say negative things about those they compete against. This wasn’t the case with Dykes.
People from all sides of the football stadium could only talk about the wonderful person he was and how much he did for the world of coaching.
The work Dykes did at Tech filled our university with excitement for Red Raider football. If we find ourselves wondering how game day became such a beloved tradition or why our school is known for its football fans, we can look to the man who cared about those players on the field more than anything else in this great, wide state.
But, Dykes was not some stodgy workaholic. No, he was the heartbeat of this university. His words were wise, his commitment was steady, his life was rich. To some, his name might not mean a thing. To those of us who live and breathe Texas Tech, Spike Dykes was a legend.
But, what makes a person a legend? Mere athletic prowess fails to account for the profound love and respect Dykes commanded. His selfless care for those around him is an indelible part of that equation. Only in light of that facet can we begin to make sense of his life and the legacy he left behind.
This week, in addition to people who personally knew Dykes, the entire Lubbock community has been in mourning for a man some of us never knew. Memorials have been planned, video boards display his picture and countless tears have been shed.
By simply driving around Lubbock, we can see an abundance of local business owners expressing their sorrow for the loss of this legend. How could we help but not tear up at that sight?
Obviously, we never knew the man, but seeing how many people loved him made it feel as though some extended family member of ours had died.
Having dealt with death recently, our news editor Michael Cantu said he has grown attuned to the generic “I’m sorry” speech people give when talking about the deceased.
So, after hearing about Dykes’ death, Cantu was expecting that same tired response from all the people he interviewed. However, from his first interview to his last, Cantu discovered he was dealing with something unprecedented and unexpected.
All the people Cantu spoke to regarding Dykes shared not only their immense respect for the coach but also genuinely lovely stories of his accomplishments. His demeanor, personality and colloquialisms were engraved in the hearts of the people he interacted with.
Every one of the interviews involved someone on the other end of the line choking up. He could hear their voices breaking and visualize the tears in their eyes.
We see now how this man is known posthumously through the people who knew him. Their stories form his legacy, their reverence exemplifies his reputation and their love for him provides a glimpse of how he loved.
Dykes loved Tech, he loved football and he loved life. His contributions to the happiness of those around him continue to brighten the lives of many, even though he is no longer here to see it.
All of this to say, many people — those who knew him and those who didn’t — are saddened by the loss of Spike Dykes.
So, thank you, coach Spike Dykes. Thank you for instilling the love of Texas Tech in generations of Red Raiders.
Thank you for loving the Texas Tech football program to life. Thank you for leaving your everlasting mark.
Thank you, coach.