From the birth of Mike Leach’s Air Raid in Lubbock, Texas, to the bizarro college football outpost of Berkeley, Calif., to Gary Pattersonland in Fort Worth, Sonny Dykes has seen all sorts of coaching dynamics. The son of Texas football legend Spike Dykes, Sonny, now 53, grew up in coaching.

But when he returned to TCU in late November 2021 to succeed Patterson, the university’s all-time winningest coach whose bronze statue stands, arms folded, near its football stadium, he pondered one pivotal question:

How are we going to get these guys to buy in?

It’s a question every coach considers when taking over a program, regardless of what shape it is in. Dykes was replacing a coach who had six top-10 finishes and had won at least 11 games in a season 10 times. But TCU had grown stale; the Horned Frogs hadn’t won more than seven games in the previous four years and hadn’t been to a bowl game since 2018.

“We had ‘em for three days in December and what we saw in three days wasn’t very good,” Dykes said upon seeing his new team in workouts. “A lot of guys didn’t show up or were late.”

A little more than a year later, that team was doing the unthinkable — competing in the national championship game.

So how did Dykes and his staff get that group bought in?

“I don’t completely know,” Dykes told The Athletic a few days before TCU played Georgia in the 2023 national championship. “We were trying to recruit our players — three (of the top four players from the 2021 team) transferred. We didn’t feel really good about that. OK, what are we gonna do? We’ve got to call these players.”

But Dykes’ read into the program’s transition is more nuanced than that. The players who signed at TCU to play for Patterson knew they were going to get coached hard and not be babied, he reasoned. They had grit, he thought, so if he could connect with them, they’d probably respond well to the change. Then he searched the transfer portal for good players who brought some needed maturity.