FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Barry Lunney Jr. is serving as Arkansas’ interim head coach, but he brings much more to the program than that.
Not only has Lunney been an assistant at Arkansas since 2013 he’s been the Hogs’ lead recruiter in the state since that time. He also is a former player and was a graduate assistant in 1998-99.
Lunney helped lead Arkansas to the SEC Championship Game in 1995 under Danny Ford. He was asked on Monday what Arkansas will have to do to get back to competing for titles and winning again?
“I think there’s a lot of things that need to be done,” Lunney said. “I think you have to recruit. That’s always the deal. You’ve got to recruit. I think, more than that, it’s evaluation and developmental. I think those are critical aspects. You’ve got to recruit. You’ve got to swing hard. You’ve got to tighten up your radius. I thought Chad (Morris) had a really good plan and model in that regard. Tighten up your radius.
“But at the end of the day, you better evaluate and you better develop them. That’s really critical here. It always has been. You’ve got to start with a tight radius and identify those players that you think can help you win games, whether it’s immediately or three years down the line. You have to go get them. You have to go all out and do everything you can to get those guys that are close in proximity, especially the guys inside these borders.
“You’ve got to get them. And you’ve got to beat the bushes for them. Because there’s some out there that you’ve got to just dig a little deep for. And then you start spreading that out a little bit. You go out to your radius, where it’s three to five hours. Obviously in Texas, in East Texas and DFW. Those are important areas, but it’s about recruiting. When I say that, it’s not about the splash of signing day. Is that good? Sure it is. It’s about getting it right. I think that’s the critical part there is you’ve got to get it right. You’ve got to evaluate and then you’ve got to develop. And if you’ll do that steadily there’s enough around here if you get the right guys to build it.
“You’ve got to coach them up. Part of development is coaching them up, obviously. But yeah, you’ve got to have somebody who’s got a plan and knows how to do that. And just build it slowly and surely and steadily and create a foundation there with those guys that are close in proximity that identify with Arkansas. They don’t necessarily have to be from here, but that they identify with this program and what kind of program and the history and tradition that’s here. That is where you start.”
Has the talent in the state decreased in recent years or is it still about the same?
“I don’t think it’s decreased,” Lunney said. “I don’t. I don’t think it’s changed a lot over the years. I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder a little bit. I don’t mean that negatively towards anybody that has been the head football coach here. I’m always going to be partial and biased towards kids that grow up in this state because I was one. If that’s the correct grammar, I guess it’s better than I are one. But, I was one. I grew up in this state and Saturday’s was about Razorback football. That’s all it was about. When I got an opportunity to do it and to live out a dream, I was vested. The community I came from was vested in my success.”
Lunney talked more about the in-state recruiting and how it relates to the Hogs.
“I think that is always a real strong foundational point,” Lunney said. “When you identify kids in this state that can help you. Again, that’s not just saying finding the guy that can help you Year 1. There are players that can help you not until Year 2 or Year 3. There have been a lot of those guys over the years here, that when they have gotten their opportunity in Year 2 and Year 3, they just took off. Now does that mean there are 15 guys a year in this state that can help us win SEC football games in this state? There’s not. That would be an anomaly if that ever happened.
But is there a foundation of guy in this state that you start with and build around? There’s no doubt in my mind. That’s going to be really important. It’s always been important for me. We haven’t necessarily gotten all those guys or gone after all those guys for whatever the circumstance. There’s been quirky circumstances that have come up over the years where maybe we already have a commitment at the position or we just weren’t sure how to project him. I think that’s the job of the coach here, is you’ve got to really look through and comb through this state. Sift through this state really, really thoroughly and find that diamond in the rough.
“I’m not saying there’s 10 of them or five of them. There may just be one of them per year. But, boy, you can’t afford for them to go somewhere else and have a good career. You just can’t. We need them here. That’s my belief and always will be my belief.”
On Saturday night, true freshman walk-on receiver John David White had two receptions for 27 yards.
“He epitomizes what I’m talking about,” Lunney said. “There’s a guy that the Razorbacks run through his family deep. We got an opportunity to bring him here. He turned down some scholarship offers at other places to come here and live his dream as a non-scholarship player. That’s a really critical factor here, too, when you talk about Arkansas kids. Not all of those guys that can help you are going to be scholarship guys to begin with. They’re not. In fact, a lot of them aren’t.”
A former walk-on Jack Lindsey played quarterback for the first time on Saturday night. He finished with 4 of 5 passing for 51 yards and a 24-yard touchdown to Mike Woods. Lindsey also rushed three times for 30 yards.
“But those are the guys that you have to identify like a John David White, a Jack Lindsey, who came here on there own dime,” Lunney said. “You’ve got to identify those guys and you’ve got to give them an opportunity to come here. You’ve got make it known to them that they’re important to the way you build this place. And you invest time in them. You don’t wait until after signing day or a week before signing day and say, ‘Oh, hey, if it doesn’t work out for you, you want to try to come walk on? No, you recruit them.
“The rules are really relaxed in that area in the last few years to where you actually have access to recruit non-scholarship players in a loose term. You can’t go see them at home, but there’s things you can do to make them feel connected to this program and make them feel wanted in this program, and we did that with guys like Jack Lindsey and John David. And the guys that can help. That’s exactly what I was talking about earlier. Just to clarify, if there’s 10 kids a year, five of them may be scholarship, five of them may not be able to help until 2-3 years down the line, but you want them. Man, I couldn’t be prouder of John David White. He epitomizes what it means to have Razorback spirit and legacy, and we can’t get enough of guys like that.”
Arkansas currently has commitments from Hazen defensive end Blayne Toll, Jonesboro defensive end Jashaud Stewart and Bryant outside linebacker Catrell Wallace from inside the state for the Class of 2020.