Lun­ney takes over in in­terim

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Nate Allen Ra­zor­backs Re­port

FAYETTEVIL­LE - Turns out the second half of the last close game that Chad Mor­ris coached trig­gered the be­gin­ning of the end of his 22-game Arkansas Ra­zor­backs ten­ure.

At Mon­day’s press con­fer­ence ex­plain­ing his Sun­day de­ci­sion to fire second-year coach Mor­ris and to Arkansas rein­tro­duce Barry Lun­ney, the for­mer Ra­zor­backs quar­ter­back from 1992-1995 and the Ra­zor­backs tight ends coach since 2013 un­der

Bret Bielema then Mor­ris, as Arkansas’ in­terim head coach this sea­son’s fi­nal two games, Yu­rachek de­scribed the im­pact of the second half of the 24-20 SEC loss at Ken­tucky.

It marked the third de­feat in Arkansas’ cur­rent se­v­engame los­ing skid in its 2-8 over­all, 0-6 SEC sea­son still with two games to play.

Re­al­iz­ing Mor­ris in 2018 in­her­ited a 4-8 over­all, 1-7 in the SEC 2017 team from

Bielema, Yu­rachek firmly sup­ported Mor­ris de­spite his 2-8, over­all, 0-8 in the SEC de­but.

And even after a dis­as­trous 31-24 home non­con­fer­ence loss to four-touch­down un­der­dog San Jose State, Yu­rachek was heart­ened by the un­der­dog Hogs’ fight in their 31-27 SEC loss to Texas A&M.

The Ken­tucky game cast doubt, Yu­rachek said. The en­su­ing 51-10, 48-7, 54-24 SEC losses to Auburn, Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi State, and non­con­fer­ence loss to Western Ken­tucky con­firmed them. Last Satur­day’s 45-19 loss to Western Ken­tucky proved the fi­nal nail in the coach whose slo­gan was “Ham­mer Down.”

“I thought our pro­gram had taken some backward steps the past few weeks,” Yu­rachek said. “I look back to the second half of the Ken­tucky game. We fought re­ally hard against Texas A&M. We played re­ally well in the first half against Ken­tucky. I thought our sea­son re­ally turned when we couldn’t close out that game and get that win against Ken­tucky. I thought at that point in time our stu­den­tath­letes were start­ing to lose be­lief on if we could ac­tu­ally ever get over the hump with the cur­rent lead­er­ship.”

No­body pre­sumed Arkansas would beat na­tional pow­ers Auburn and Alabama, but Mis­sis­sippi State and cer­tainly Con­fer­ence USA Western Ken­tucky were deemed winnable games be­come los­ing routs.

“I don’t think we played very well and I don’t think we com­peted very well in ei­ther one of those (Auburn and Alabama) games, and we surely didn’t com­pete very well against Mis­sis­sippi State or Western Ken­tucky this past Satur­day,” Yu­rachek said. “I made a definitive de­ci­sion after the game Satur­day night. Chad and I meet ev­ery Sun­day and we had met after the Mis­sis­sippi State, and he un­der­stood from that meet­ing that the Western Ken­tucky game was a re­ally key game for him and his ten­ure here.”

Yu­rachek, who ap­proved Mor­ris’ hir­ing but in re­al­ity didn’t hire him as he had not yet taken the Ra­zor­backs’ ath­letic direc­tor job when for­mer UA se­nior as­so­ciate ath­letic direc­tor Julie Cromer Peo­ples led the search that hired Mor­ris to re­place Bielema, said Mor­ris parts un­der terms of his con­tract.

Mor­ris’ buy­out over four years is re­ported to be $10 mil­lion.

“Ob­vi­ously, it’s a chal­lenge for us to take that money from some­where and ap­ply it to a buy­out,” Yu­rachek said. “But, we’ve got a great chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer that has as­sured me that we have the means to

do so, and I was com­fort­able mak­ing that change be­cause of that.”

Yu­rachek said he parts “great friends” with Mor­ris but did de­ci­sively ad­dress the ques­tion of the in­evitable crit­i­cism that with not even two full sea­sons Mor­ris had not been granted enough time to re­build the Ra­zor­backs.

“I didn’t have tremen­dously high ex­pec­ta­tions for us this sea­son,” Yu­rachek said. “But one of those ex­pec­ta­tions was for us to go out each and ev­ery Satur­day and com­pete like the Ra­zor­back foot­ball pro­gram should com­pete, and I thought we were no longer do­ing that. And I don’t think that takes time to mo­ti­vate the play­ers within your pro­gram to com­pete.

I think it was clear over the past cou­ple of weeks that we were no longer com­pet­i­tive.”

Yu­rachek did say the cir­cum­stances makes find­ing the right coach im­per­a­tive.

“I know I’ve got to get this search right,” Yu­rachek said. “We can­not af­ford as a depart­ment of ath­let­ics to go through this two or three years from now. The tim­ing of this change gives me a lit­tle bit longer run­way to re­ally do my due dili­gence on this search and make sure we get the right can­di­date in here and that we al­low that right can­di­date the time they need to build a pro­gram. Ob­vi­ously it’s go­ing to take steps. That first step is we’ve just got to be com­pet­i­tive.

As for the coach­ing search, other than pos­si­bly us­ing a search firm just for can­di­dates con­fi­den­tially to make their avail­abil­ity known, Yu­rachek made it clear it be­gins and ends with him un­til sub­mit­ted to Chan­cel­lor Joseph Stein­metz and the Board of Trus­tees.

“I have de­vel­oped a list of can­di­dates, ab­so­lutely,” Yu­rachek said. “I didn’t put any feel­ers out to see who’s in­ter­ested. That’s not fair to Coach Mor­ris for me to go out be­hind his back and see who may be in­ter­ested in the po­si­tion while I still have a sit­ting head coach.

But (with Mor­ris dis­missed) I will start that to­day and work through a list of can­di­dates and add it up to see who truly is in­ter­ested. I have no doubt we will have a strong can­di­date pool.”

As the in­terim head coach for this open-date week and fi­nal SEC games Nov. 23 at Ap-ranked No. 1 LSU in Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana, with kick­off com­ing at 6 p.m., and Nov. 29 against Mis­souri at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock, Yu­rachek strongly en­dorsed Lun­ney, a Fort Smith na­tive and the lone UA grad on the staff and a 1992 Ra­zor­backs fresh­man quar­ter­back when Coach Jack Crowe was fired after a sea­son-open­ing loss to The Citadel and re­placed as in­terim head coach by de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Joe Kines.

“Barry Lun­ney is a for­mer stu­dent-ath­lete,” Yu­rachek said. “He’s a Ra­zor­back, through and through. I asked Barry to step up un­der very tough cir­cum­stances, to take on the lead­er­ship of our foot­ball pro­gram. And without pause, he told me yes. I know I will get Barry’s best dur­ing the next three weeks, be­cause he loves this foot­ball pro­gram, he loves this univer­sity, he loves this state and he’s in­vested in what we’re try­ing to do. And I know he truly loves the 120 men he’s now lead­ing within our foot­ball pro­gram.”

Yu­rachek said from the meet­ing he told the team about Lun­ney coach­ing them that it’s re­cip­ro­cated.

“The kids were re­ally ex­cited about Coach Lun­ney, I think for the rea­son we talked about,” Yu­rachek said. “He’s a Ra­zor­back. He’s walked in their foot­steps. He un­der­stands what they are go­ing through hav­ing an in­terim coach.”

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