FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Barry Lunney Jr. has seen just about everything Arkansas has to offer — good to bad — as a player, assistant coach and now interim head coach.
Lunney signed with Arkansas out of Fort Smith Southside where he was a very talented quarterback. He came to Arkansas and his head coach, Jack Crowe, was fired after one game.
After losing to The Citadel 10-3 in Razorback Stadium on Sept. 5 to start the 1992 season absolutely no one gave the Hogs a chance to beat No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville on Oct. 10. But, Lunney and the Razorbacks did just that downing the Vols 25-24.
Lunney was promoted to interim head coach on Sunday when Chad Morris was fired. The team has a bye week before heading to Baton Rouge to play No. 1 LSU on Saturday, Nov. 23. Lunney now has the task of holding the team together the final two games of a disappointing 2019 season.
“This is all about the players,” Lunney said. “So, our job and my job is to make sure that these next few weeks that we figure out a way to play like Razorbacks. We’ve lost that the last few weeks. 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 in a few weeks.”
Lunney got a strong endorsement on Monday from the person who chose him to be the interim head coach. Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas’ director of athletics, was asked if Lunney was a candidate to replace Morris on a permanent basis?
“I’m excited to have Barry Lunney as our interim head coach,” Yurachek said. “He was excited about the opportunity, again under some tough circumstances. He did a great job, I think energizing our young men last night under a very difficult set of circumstances. I think they are very excited about the opportunities these next two or three weeks.
“I’m not going to say I’m evaluating Barry. But I’ll tell you Barry has a great opportunity over these next three weeks and he’s already hit the ground running and has been very impressive in his first 24 hours.”
Lunney was asked if he would like to be head coach at Arkansas?
“Yes, obviously, that is a dream of mine, but my focus right now is to get these guys their best opportunity to play their best football game they’ve played this year,” Lunney said. “We’ve got some black eyes and it needs to stop, and that’s my sole focus – 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.
“Whatever that looks like, I just want it to be our best game – O, D, special teams, together, and 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. I believe that very strongly, and that is my sole focus.”
Lunney wasn’t hoping to get a shot at his dream job this way though with Morris, who he thanked for retaining him from Bret Bielema’s staff, and admitted mixed emotions.
“I would be lying to you if I told you it wasn’t mixed,” Lunney said. “It’s very strange in some ways, but it feels very natural in some ways in the fact that as far as the situation and the circumstances that we’re facing, I felt like, and obviously Hunter agrees, that I was the right fit during this time.
“Flooded with memories and things of the past. Like I said at the start of my opening statement, I couldn’t help but think of Joe Kines and what he went through. He had some great lines, you know, and was always full of energy and excitement. I remember how we invigorated our football team that year. I mean, it wasn’t perfect. We had some things go bad during that season, but he gave us some hope and he gave us some confidence.”
Whether it’s him or someone else, Lunney talked about what qualities the next coach at Arkansas needs to have.
“You’ve got to have a guy that obviously that, Hunter there’s no doubt in my mind he’s gonna do a great job of finding someone who understands this place,” Lunney said. “Whether you are from here or not, it’s important to understand the state and the culture. Anybody that’s come from the outside that’s been successful has usually embraced that. I’m not saying Chad didn’t because I’ve seen him do that and make great attempts to do that. I think it starts there understanding the history and heritage of the program.
“I think one of the things that is key is recruiting footprint and I think Chad had a good plan for that. I think somebody could piggyback on that and use that as a springboard to continue that emphasis. It’s a tough league. We all know it’s the best league in football. The best division in football. But we’ve all seen there have been ebbs and flows in this over the years we’ve seen the Razorbacks fight and be contenders not just for the SEC Championship.”
Lunney reflected to a movie he watched that reminded him of his message that what has been done when Arkansas was successful in the SEC can be repeated.
“We’ve played in the game three times and so it has been done before,” Lunney said. “I’m a firm believer in what’s been done before can be done again. One of my favorite movies is the old movie The Edge about them being trapped in the woods with the Grizzly beard with Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins. He had to talk Anthony Hopkins into believing he could kill a bear. He said I can’t kill a bear. He said yeah what one man can do another can do and he’s right. What one team in history did here another can do. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it can be done. You have to have a perfect storm of events.”
One example of what has been done at Arkansas was the 1995 team with Lunney at quarterback that made it to the SEC Championship Game.
“A good senior class,” Lunney said. “It’s gonna be critical for us to keep these players together so can continue to grow and mature together in this process. Like I mentioned before in my opening statement my freshman year things did not go very well early on for us freshmen. Our head coach had got let go after one game. Yet, we stuck together and laid the foundation to be a senior class that took Arkansas to its first ever SEC Championship Game. So I think sticking together is gonna be important for our football team.
“Finding the right guy obviously understands the history and heritage of this program and hits the ground running with it.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Wednesday.