Bret Bielema has moved one step closer to completing his coaching staff at Arkansas with the naming of Barry Lunney Jr. as the new tight ends coach.
Barry Lunney Jr. said he could hit the road to recruit as soon as Thursday.
Lunney is a former Razorback who also has coached as a graduate assistant in 1998-99 for the Razorbacks. Lunney also has college coaching experience at San Jose State and Tulsa as well as coaching at Bentonville High School. However, on Wednesday, Lunney was very pleased to be the newest assistant for Bielema.
“Obviously, it's a great day for me and a great honor for me and my family to be here as the tight ends coach at my alma mater,” Lunney said. “It's obviously an exciting time in Arkansas Football with a new era under Coach Bielema.
“Just the excitement surrounding the program. I'm honored to be a part of it and looking forward to getting to work.”
Bielema had felt it was important to hire someone with Arkansas connections and when Tim Horton opted to leave for Auburn that opened the door for Lunney. Lunney talked about his role as a former player at Arkansas who is now a tight ends coach.
“Coach and I have talked about it,” Lunney said. “I think he talked to some (former lettermen) and got some feedback from some before this hire.
“I have definitely been touched by some of the outreach I have gotten from former players and teammates. I do think that will be a certain sense of my responsibility. A certain sense that our former lettermen and players here are going to have someone they can identify with. Not that that is a 100-percent crucial, but I think it is a very vital thing for players to feel like they have someone they know, who they can trust and is on their side. That gives them a certain sense of belonging to the program.”
Lunney's first assignment on Wednesday other than the teleconference with reporters is to pass the recruiting test so he can get certified to hit the recruiting trail.
“The No. 1 thing on my agenda today is to try to get this recruiting test taken care of to become certified in case I may have the opportunity to go out tomorrow,” Lunney said. “It kind of depends on if we can get this test taken care of. (Going on the road tomorrow) isn't necessarily set in stone, but it's an idea being thrown around.
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema is now close to completing his staft.
“Some of the rules have changed for me in the past seven years, but in general most of them the principles have stayed the same. I started reviewing that this morning and I'm going to take a practice test in a little while when we get done with this. That's definitely a No. 1 priority for me and Coach Bielema is for me to get certified.”
Lunney said the fact he would have been the last hire on the staff had George McDonald not left on Tuesday and some perceive his hire as nothing more than an Arkansas person being hired isn't a factor with him.
“I'm certainly not concerned about that,” Lunney said. “I think that obviously, anyone can see, helped me get my foot in the door in the beginning.
“The fact I had a playing career here and I think it was a combination of things. The experience I have had here at the high school level the past few years. I got to know the in's and out's of Arkansas High School Football being a coach. There's a lot of great ones in this state. There's a high level being played here. I will say this that may have got my foot in the door, but I can assure you when I was in the interview I was on the grease board with Coach (Jim) Chaney that me playing here or not playing here didn't help me a whole lot when I was on that board. That got my foot in the door, but my ability to communicate, develop relationships and my knowledge of football came out as well during the interview and helped me as well. I think it was a combination of things so I don't feel a sense of 'like I'm just the Arkansas guy'. Like I told Coach Bielema I may be that guy, but my No. 1 priority is I will be Bret Bielema guy and then I'm a Razorback guy. I'm really looking forward to it.”
Lunney does feel that him returning to coach high school with his father, Barry Lunney Sr., has helped him prepare for the job he will do at Arkansas including recruiting. Bentonville has had several players recruited during Lunney's time at Bentonville and Lunney has taken note of how coaches did various things during that time.
“I think it has helped me, certainly hasn't hurt me,” Lunney said. “You see certain guys come through and see you see some you can look at and see that this guy is doing a nice job. Then you see some come through that aren't doing such a good job.
“I think over my time at Bentonville I have seen both ends of that spectrum and I think what it has done for me more than anything I think it has given me confidence that when I was a recruiter at San Jose State, Tulsa and I recruited a brief time here as a graduate assistant when Danny Nutt was dealing with his medical issues I was able to go out on the road at that point in time. It kind of verified to me I was doing it the right way. Not that I was the very best recruiter that ever come through a school, but I was at least approaching it the right way by forging relationships, being personable and go through the coaches before you get to the kids and things of that nature. I think that has helped me seeing both sides of the fence.”
Lunney said he's also working with Chaney, who is Arkansas' offensive coordinator, and someone he talked with during the interview process.
“I definitely didn't know Jim other than I have seen some things on him,” Lunney said. “I enjoyed last year seeing of the SEC, ESPN kind of a week in Tennessee Football and see him miked up. They followed him around and it was really refreshing to watch because he was real, personable and fun, but yet very demanding.
“I have such high respect for him with what he has accomplished in his coaching career. His track record speaks for itself. Obviously, I think one of the things that was critical in this process was knowing Jim felt comfortable with me to be part of his staff. I think we have forged a good relationship early on, a good rapport and I think that went a long way in my interview process of helping me get the job.”
Lunney also has been impressed with what Arkansas has done with such tight ends as D.J. Williams and Chris Gragg. Lunney said Bielema also has done an excellent job at Wisconsin with the tight ends.
“I think like a lot of great offensive-minded guys Jim is a guy who will play to the strengths of the football team,” Lunney said. “I think Coach Bielema's record for using tight ends kind of speaks for itself. Not just one tight end, but two tight ends and I think at times he has used three tight ends.
“He had a second-round pick in Lance Kendricks there at Wisconsin. I think between Jim and Coach Bielema's background I think they understand the importance of using the tight end. I think also playing to their strengths whether it be route running, putting their hand on the ground and being a blocker. I think a lot of that is to be determined, but I think there's a track record there for both of those guys that's strong and we will use them, but not only use them, but coach them the best we can. They will be a vital part of our success offensively.”
Lunney said he spoke with his father before taking the job.
“It was a very bittersweet thing for me,” Lunney said. “Mostly, I will say this, sweet and a little bit bitter. Only because it has been a very special opportunity for me to work with him and under him.
“I knew that was going to be a once in a lifetime chance when it arose eight years ago. I didn't know it was going to be as long it was, but I'm glad it was because it was a special experience. I have learned a lot from him. He was very excited for me. He was sad to see me go, but was excited me and my wife for this opportunity cause he knows it has been in my heart. It is something that is filling a very large dream of mine to come back here and be a football coach.”
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