Hogs’ interim coach knows the situation all too well
FAYETTEVILLE - If any coach understands Arkansas’ interim coaching situation, it’s the one chosen for this interim.
Barry Lunney Jr., the
Fort Smith native and since 2013 Arkansas Razorbacks tight ends coach, on Sunday became Arkansas’ interim head coach with firsthand Arkansas experience playing for an interim coach.
Lunney was named Sunday by Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek to head coach starting this open-date week and two games season-ending interim.
On Sunday morning Yurachek fired Coach Chad Morris, 2-8 overall and 0-6 in the SEC this season after a 2-10, 0-8 2018 debut.
In 1992 as a
Razorbacks true freshman quarterback via Fort Smith
Southside, Lunney watched Jack Crowe’s Razorbacks lose the season-opener to The Citadel. Lunney was stunned the next day to find that Athletic Director Frank Broyles fired Crowe and promoted defensive coordinator Joe Kines to interim head coach.
Lunney still laughs, marvels and says he’ll try to adopt Kines’ interim approach.
“When Joe Kines so famously took over as the coach in his press conference, he was asked about being the interim,” Lunney said. “And he quipped, ‘We are all interim.’ I think he said it best. At that point in time, his attitude was one that was incredible to watch as a player.”
Other than it being Game 2 than Game 10, the circumstances post Citadel don’t differ much for the players following Morris’ exit flogged in Fayetteville 45-19 by the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers of Conference USA.
“We had just come off a loss to the Citadel, which obviously was a black eye on our program, and we didn’t even know who the coach was going to be,” Lunney recalled. “We experienced all the range of emotions that our guys are going through right now, confusion, anger, disappointment, happy, sad, mad, whatever they are, all those ranges of emotions are on our football team right now. I experienced those same feelings, and as I was telling the players last night, I learned and I saw first-hand what it looked like for a guy that was appointed as an interim coach to come in and to right the ship and to breathe life into our football players. He gave us hope.”
Under Kines the rallying Razorbacks in their next game entered the SEC routing South Carolina 45-7 in Columbia.
They weren’t a very good team, those up and down 3-7-1 Razorbacks. But with Lunney making his debut Razorbacks start in Knoxville, Tennessee, against 5-0 nationally No. 4 Tennessee, Arkansas stunned the Vols 25-24.
“Twenty-seven years later people still talk about that game,” Lunney said. “It’s an example, he said of a team staying together even with the head coach parted. And that team’s freshmen weathered 5-5-1 and 4-7 seasons to be the seniors on Danny Ford’s 1995 SEC West champions.
Even that 1992 nationally noteworthy achievement in Knoxville would be surpassed if the Razorbacks somehow won their next game Nov. 23 at AP No. 1 ranked LSU before closing hosting the Missouri Tigers Nov. 29 at War Memorial
Stadium in Little Rock.
“We are going to do our darndest and everything we can to pump some life back into these guys and go and play our best football game of the year when we go to Baton Rouge,” Lunney said.
While he’d cherish a miracle in Baton Rouge, Lunney will take what Yurachek realistically wants. That’s a Razorbacks team competing like Yurachek said he last saw competing in the first half of the 24-20 SEC loss at Kentucky since dissipated by the 51-10, 48-7, and 54-24 SEC losses to Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State and last Saturday’s 45-19 humiliation.
“My sole focus is getting our coaches and our players to play their best football game that they’ve played all year long when we go to Baton Rouge,” Lunney said. “Whatever that looks like, I just want it to be our best game - offense, defense, special teams, together. If we’ll do that and then we’ll do it again the next week when we go to Little Rock, we’re going to have a chance to win a football game.”
In the meantime even with the counsel which he relies upon from his father, Barry Lunney Sr., the retired state champion high school coach at Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville, Lunney said he most craves “energizing” these Hogs as their interim coach like Kines energized the 1992 Hogs.
According to Yurachek, attending Lunney’s first team meeting Sunday night, he already has.
“He did a great job energizing our young men last night under a very difficult set of circumstances,” Yurachek said. “He’s already hit the ground running and has been very impressive in his first 24 hours.”