Sonny Dykes was linked to a handful of head coaching vacancies during his three seasons as the Arizona Wildcats offensive coordinator.
This one, nobody saw coming.
Dykes was named head coach at Louisiana Tech on Wednesday following a whirlwind courtship that took him from Tucson to Texas and, eventually, to tiny Ruston, La.
Dykes replaces Derek Dooley, who left Louisiana Tech last week to become the head coach at Tennessee. Dooley earned $400,000 last year as the Bulldogs head coach and athletic director; Dykes made $278,145 annually at the UA.
The 40-year-old has never been a head coach at any level and will begin at Louisiana Tech immediately. He's the son of legendary Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes and spent 2007-09 as the mastermind behind the UA's record-breaking Air Zona passing attack.
"… I've worked my entire life to get to this point," Dykes said Wednesday at a news conference held in Ruston. "People are what make successful programs. It's not about buildings. It's not about facilities. It's about people. I really believe the right people are here to get this program to the next level.
"When you get an opportunity like this, it can be a little overwhelming at times. We just felt like this was the right place at the right time. I really feel like this program is headed for great things in the future. We're going to do everything we can to maximize this."
Dykes is the first UA assistant to leave for a Division I head coaching job since December 1999, when running backs coach Jeff Woodruff left for Eastern Michigan. Defensive coordinator Rich Ellerson was hired at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, a Division II school, a year later.
Dykes takes over a Bulldogs program that finished 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the Western Athletic Conference last year. He will implement the spread offense popularized at Texas Tech, and an aggressive, attacking defense. He will turn his attention to the quarterback position first because, he said, "in college football today, you win and lose with quarterbacks."
Under Dykes, the Air Zona offense set single-season records for total passing yards, passing yards per game, completions, touchdowns and completion percentage. Quarterback Willie Tuitama and tight end Rob Gronkowski combined to smash two dozen school records during their time at the UA.
Most recently, Dykes developed Michigan State transfer Nick Foles into a 2,400-yard passer.
Dykes will spend the next few days assembling a staff and securing a recruiting class. It's unclear what that means for Arizona.
Dykes has connections to every remaining member of the UA's offensive staff. Inside receivers coach Garret Chachere is a New Orleans native who has coached at Tulane, Louisiana-Monroe and Nicholls State. Outside receivers coach David Nichol is Dykes' protege and one of his closest friends. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh thrived in 2009, and could be considered for Dykes' old job should the Wildcats decide to promote from within.
UA head coach Mike Stoops told the Star he will take his time finding a replacement.
"I want to discuss everything with my staff first and see where we're going from there," Stoops said via phone from the recruiting trail. "I'd like to hire from within if that's possible. In what capacity, we'll see."
Interim athletic director Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose will meet with Stoops later this week, she said, to "put a gameplan together."
Dykes' hiring can be directly traced to Pete Carroll's departure for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks a week ago. USC replaced Carroll with Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin; the Volunteers subsequently hired Dooley away from Louisiana Tech.
That cleared the way for Dykes to get his first head coaching job.
It all happened quickly.
Dykes spent Tuesday night in Allen, Texas, visiting with UA recruit Matt Brown. Brown, the only quarterback committed to the Wildcats' 2010 recruiting class, said Dykes never mentioned his candidacy for the Louisiana Tech job.
"Of course, I understand," Brown said. "It's a head coaching job. If you get offered a head coaching job, you take it. I totally understand that. But Coach was a big part of my recruitment to Arizona. And it's a big deal because I'm a quarterback. If I was a running back or wide receiver, I probably wouldn't care at all."
Brown remains committed to the UA, but said he will "watch my back a little bit now" until the Wildcats hire a new offensive coordinator.
Dykes said he "fully expected to be at Arizona" until circumstances changed Wednesday morning.
Acting athletic director Bruce Van De Velde offered Dykes the job in the morning; by 5 p.m., Dykes, his wife, Katie, and their 16-month-old daughter, Ally, were introduced at the news conference in Ruston.
"That's the way this business goes sometimes," Dykes said. "It's not exactly right. It's not exactly fair. But that's the way it goes.
"If you ask me to tell you what happened in the last 24 hours, I'm not sure I could. There hasn't been much sleep. There's been a lot of phone calls. There's been a couple of airplanes, a couple of changes of scenery, and here we are."
The short list for a new offensive coordinator could include the following five names:
• Age: 37
• Why he fits: Bedenbaugh, the UA's offensive line coach and run game coordinator, is the top in-house candidate. His patchwork offensive line was a main reason for the Wildcats' 8-5 season in 2009.
• Age: 31
• Why he fits: Heupel, the quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma, has ties to both Mike Stoops and the UA. He was the Wildcats' tight ends coach in 2005.
• Age: 48
• Why he fits: The embattled former Texas Tech coach pioneered the Air Raid offense, and would likely keep much of Arizona's current system in place. However, Leach - who worked with Stoops at Oklahoma in 1999 - could be a public relations nightmare.
• Age: 53
• Why he fits: Mangino is another high-profile coach with Oklahoma connections - and his fair share of baggage. He was fired at Kansas last month amid accusations of boorish behavior and verbal abuse toward his players.
• Age: 43
• Why he fits: Wyatt, Arizona's wide receivers coach in 2007, is viewed as one of the nation's best recruiters and a bright offensive mind. He joined Turner Gill's staff at Kansas last month following two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss.