With timing a central factor of ‘unique’ coaching search, SMU introduces Rhett Lashlee as HC

UNIVERSITY PARK — Timing is a universal element to the college coaching carousel these days. But in SMU’s case, timing is a particularly salient factor in the transition from former head coach Sonny Dykes to Rhett Lashlee.

Take Tuesday’s introductory press conference of Lashlee as a prime example. It took place just six hours after Dykes was introduced as TCU’s next head coach. It was also announced before Dykes was even officially out the door in Dallas.

And if you reach back further into the story of how Lashlee was hired, timing once again played a big role. Three weeks ago, with Dykes appearing to be on his way out of Dallas, SMU was forced to reach out to Lashlee sooner than it would have liked to gauge his interest in the job.

“This has been a unique time for all of us,” SMU athletic director Rick Hart said of the timing of the coaching search. “We’ve had to adapt to an evolving situation.”

The timing ultimately led to SMU hiring Lashlee, a former Miami offensive coordinator. Lashlee coached at SMU from 2018-19 under Dykes as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

But it was also that timing that made for one of the more “awkward” coaching transitions, according to Hart.

The root of the problem stemmed from the early start to the coaching carousel in college football this year. Texas Tech fired its coach at the end of October. TCU fired its coach at the start of November.

From that point on, with weeks remaining in SMU’s regular season, Dykes name was thrown around as a potential candidate. Normally, college football starts buzzing about opening in the final weeks of the season instead of the middle. But with Dykes’ name out so early, the combination of Hart and SMU president Gerald Turner, put out feelers to Lashlee.

Even as Dykes remained the head coach, interviews were taking place, Lashlee’s among them.

“It was different,” Lashlee said. “It was sped up. We felt like this year things were happening in week six and week seven. I think everybody was trying to be in position for when the season ended.”

Hart originally didn’t know how to phrase or conduct the interviews. He started most by saying he wasn’t even sure SMU would have a job opening as Dykes had not committed to staying or leaving.

“It was delicate,” Hart said. “It was awkward even talking to potential coaches because we had a coach. I started every conversation saying, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to have an opening or not.’”

But now that Lashlee is in the role, timing will also be another factor. The first-time head coach will have to hire a staff, hit the ground recruiting and also figure out SMU’s roster quickly.

Dykes, on his way out of SMU, took several coaches with him including offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. Also, the recruiting trail has been hindered after six recruits de-committed from the program weeks before signing day. Two more players from SMU entered the transfer portal.

“There’s a lot to be done, but I can’t be rushed,” Lashlee said, underscoring the urgency of his arrival.

There was a moment Tuesday, after Lashlee was introduced, where the 38-year-old stopped and laughed at himself.

“What is today?” Lashlee asked. “It’s Tuesday right?”

He was trying to recount the last 48 hours where he had coached his final game at Miami, hopped on a plane to Dallas, met the SMU team, and was finally introduced all within two days.

Time, for Lashlee, was a blur.

Really, this entire coaching change, for SMU, has been too.