FAYETTEVILLE -- Former University of Arkansas quarterback Barry Lunney Jr. now holds the reins of the program he led to its first SEC West championship 24 years ago.
Lunney, a Fort Smith native and Arkansas quarterback from 1992-95, was tabbed by UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek to serve as interim head coach Sunday after the firing of coach Chad Morris.
The Razorbacks dropped to 2-8 after Saturday's 45-19 loss to Western Kentucky.
Lunney, 45, is the longest-serving current Arkansas football assistant in his seventh season. He has been tight ends coach since joining Bret Bielema's original staff in 2013, and he added special-teams coordinator to his duties this season.
Yurachek was scheduled to meet with the entire football team Sunday evening after returning from watching the UA women's soccer team fall 1-0 to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament championship game. Yurachek and Lunney will hold a joint news conference today at noon.
Lunney, 45, started 40 games for the Razorbacks, his first a 25-24 upset of No. 4 Tennessee on Oct. 10, 1992, in Knoxville, Tenn.
That game was played under interim head coach Joe Kines, who took over after Frank Broyles fired Jack Crowe on Sept. 6, the day after the Razorbacks fell 10-3 to The Citadel in their season opener.
Lunney became a key figure and co-team captain with Steve Conley on the Razorbacks' 1995 SEC West championship team.
The Razorbacks will take a short break before embarking on a daunting task in Lunney's first game as the interim coach. Arkansas has its second open date of the season this week before traveling to face No. 2 LSU on Nov. 23. The Tigers (9-0) play Ole Miss on the road this weekend.
Arkansas wraps up the season Nov. 29 against Missouri at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
The list of candidates for the full-time position could be wide ranging.
Among the most likely candidates among current head coaches are Memphis Coach Mike Norvell, Washington State Coach Mike Leach, Florida Atlantic Coach Lane Kiffin, Appalachian State Coach Eliah Drinkwitz and Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell.
Norvell, Leach and Kiffin were all considered candidates two years ago when Arkansas aimed for Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn and wound up with Morris.
Kiffin was a leading candidate for the University of Houston head coaching job that went to Major Applewhite in December 2016 when Yurachek was the Cougars' athletic director.
Assistants being mentioned for head coaching jobs include Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, the 2017 Broyles Award winner; LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda; and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who has been a candidate at Arkansas before.
Many Arkansas fans have expressed support for former head coaches Bobby Petrino and Houston Nutt, but neither of them seem likely to make a return.
Former Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson posted a social media message with his thoughts on the importance of the hiring.
"This upcoming hiring process needs to be treated like our most important because [the Razorbacks] have been the doormat of the SEC for at least the past 3 seasons," Anderson wrote. "We need someone who will hold themselves accountable.
"We need someone that will play the best player available rather than showing favoritism. Galvanize the fans through effort and play on the field and they will support that coach dearly."
Current safety Kamren Curl, a junior, posted the succinct message "3 different head coaches..." on his Twitter account.
Several current Razorbacks posted thanks to Morris on their Twitter accounts, including quarterback Nick Starkel and deep snapper Jordan Silver.
Whoever takes the head coaching reins must carry on the recruiting prowess shown by Morris and his staff and re-connect the football team to the fans and student body.
Two UA students on their way to Mullins Library on Sunday said they attended a few games last year but mostly stayed away from the stadium's student section this season as the losses mounted.
"This is an SEC school, so it's supposed to be like a football school, and we have been good in previous years not too long ago," said Todd Bailey, a 20-year-old sophomore from Tyler, Texas. "So you come in expecting game day to be like a big thing. And then, it's not."
Bailey said he and many of his friends would participate in tailgating but remain outside the stadium. He said he would be "100%" more likely to attend games next season with a new coach, but added it might take a few years for the team to resume a winning track.
Hayden Kingfisher, 22, a junior biochemistry major from Shreveport, said he transferred to Arkansas from LSU.
"There's a huge difference between their game day and Arkansas' game days, just because they're doing super good and we're not doing good," Kingfisher said.
Both Kingfisher and Bailey said they weren't surprised by Morris' firing given his 4-18 record.
"Toward the end of the season, a lot of people had been talking about, 'It's time for him to go,' " Kingfisher said.
Welch Suggs, who teaches journalism and sports media at the University of Georgia, said in an email there's a lack of evidence that would suggest a struggling football team affects interest from prospective students.
"I have not found any research linking poor football play to overall admissions, and I've been looking," said Suggs, adding that his current research involves studying whether adding a football team affects a university's overall revenue and enrollment. "Anecdotally, it's obvious that having a championship football team has been a component of Alabama's strategy to increase out-of-state enrollment, to point to one obvious example. Having a stadium full of excited people certainly can contribute to the vitality of campus culture, but it would be hard to say that that culture becomes less attractive after a few losing seasons."
Sports on 11/11/2019
Print Headline: Arkansas turns to a familiar Hog as interim coach