It’s anyone’s guess who Arkansas will hire as its next football coach, but Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek has already made one smart move.
After announcing Chad Morris’ firing Sunday, he named Arkansas assistant Barry Lunney, Jr., the interim head coach.
It’s interesting that Yurachek, who has only been on the job about two years, figured out Lunney is the one guy on the staff who is capable of leading an embattled team the final three weeks of the season.
On the surface, it appeared to be an easy decision because the two coordinators, normally a choice to serve as interim, have been so lackluster that it wasn’t even an option.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis is ready to go fishing after a long, illustrious career as an SEC defensive coordinator, but it was easy to see he has lost his touch.
At 34, Joe Craddock showed his inexperience running the offense. He and Morris couldn’t figure out how to jumpstart a unit with the quarterback talent available. None of those signal callers got better.
So, Yurachek turned to Lunney.
Many remember him as a standout quarterback for the Hogs, and the pass he threw to J.J. Meadors to beat Alabama at Tuscaloosa in 1995.
Lunney also played baseball at Arkansas and one year of minor league baseball. He has been a coach since then, serving as a graduate assistant under former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and then working for former Hogs assistants Keith Burns at Tulsa and Fitz Hill at San Jose State.
After Hil was fired at SJSU, Lunney joined his dad Barry Lunney, Sr., who he played for at Fort Smith Southside, on the staff at Bentonville High School.
The younger Lunney served as offensive coordinator for a juggernaut of a Bentonville program from 2005-12. His experience as an offensive coordinator in the college ranks showed through and the Tigers were run more like a college program because of his influence.
In 2012, Bret Bielema hired Lunney to serve as tight ends coach and help with in-state recruiting.
He and Bielema re-evaluated several in-state recruits that former coach Bobby Petrino and interim coach John L. Smith had not offered.
One of the finds was Greenwood’s Drew Morgan, who had committed to Arkansas State. Morgan became a standout receiver for the Hogs.
When Morris replaced Bielema, he retained Lunney. All Lunney has done as the tight ends coach is make it the best position on the team landing and coaching up players such as Hunter Henry and now his brother Hudson Henry along with now-former player C.J. O’Grady, who is an NFL talent with a lackluster attitude.
Lunney has done everything asked of him.
However, he’s been underutilized. Bielema seemed more attentive to in-state recruiting that than Morris, but I’m not sure either coach gave him enough say-so in which players to offer.
I know they didn’t give him enough say so in regards to the scheme. There is only so much a tight ends coach can offer.
I’m certain if the experienced Lunney was running the offense and coaching the quarterbacks, this season would have been much different.
Now, Lunney has his dream position, at least for two games. I expect Arkansas to be more organized and unified against LSU.
The No. 1 Tigers are as good as they’ve been in a while, and to say beating them in Baton Rouge would take a miracle is an understatement.
But, the Lunney-led Hogs will play with heart and conviction, and you won’t see the division that has been apparent over the past few weeks.
It seems apparent no matter that the new coach is, Lunney will be on the staff. Yurachek, though, needs to make sure Lunney isn’t marginalized.
It may be too much to ask to have the new coach name him as the offensive coordinator, but that is what he deserves, especially if Arkansas plays well against LSU and Missouri.
Yurachek has recognized his potential naming him the interim coach, and that may be the first step.