State of the Hogs: Barry Lunney

Barry Lunney, Jr., is in his sweet spot as an assistant coach with Arkansas. The former UA quarterback loves his school.

It took his alma mater to get Barry Lunney Jr., away from Barry Lunney Sr. A story from dad makes it clear Arkansas football is special to the son.

Neither father or son expected to work together as long as eight years, the time they've been together with the Bentonville football program.

But when Arkansas coach Bret Bielema called the younger Lunney with a job offer to coach tight ends, the head ball coach at Bentonville knew it was over.

"It's been in his heart for a long time," the father said. "As a dad, you shouldn't brag, but he's really good. And he loves that place. I knew he would go."

Father remembers when Danny Ford came to Arkansas as head coach with a switch to the option ahead of his son's sophomore season. That wasn't really what the quarterback did best. He was trained as a dropback passer and didn't have a big body or flashy moves or speed to run the option.

"Barry wasn't recruited to run the option and we all knew Danny was an option guy," Lunney, Sr., said. "So without telling Barry, I made some calls to see if anyone was interested in him. Barry still had his redshirt year and three years to play. I had three or four schools that were quick to say they wanted him."

The phone call was made to son to explain the options.

"I told him and there was dead silence on the line," father said. "I said, ‘Hello. You still there?' I thought we had been cut off. So I said it again. Silence again. Finally, he said, ‘Dad, I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to be here.' He loved the university, the team, the people there. He loves that place. It's always been in his heart.

"My dad played for John Barnhill and he would take him to games in the fall when I couldn't because I was coaching. He always wanted to play there and he wants to coach there.

"I knew all along that if he ever had an opportunity to coach there, he was going to jump on it."

By the same token, Barry Jr., made it clear Wednesday morning on a teleconference that no matter how sweet it is to return to the Razorbacks, leaving his father's side was tough.

"It's very bittersweet," he said. "But it's mostly sweet. There is a little bitterness. It was a very special opportunity to be with him and under him. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was eight years and I didn't think it would be that long. But as excited as I am for this opportunity, it's sad for me to go. But this has been in my heart and a desire of mine and a very large dream."

Barry Sr., said he will always be thankful for the last eight years. It's as important as all of those state titles, six combined at Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville.

"I told his mother last night after all of this came out that it had been so enjoyable to spend the time coaching, game planning and all of the hours at practice together," he said. "It can get to be just about the job sometimes, so I tried to make sure to take the time to enjoy some of the moments. I take a lot of pride in what we did together and I'm going to miss that. I looked at his empty desk this morning and I thought about that.

"He had multiple opportunities to be a head coach at really nice high schools over the last few years and he just loved Northwest Arkansas and coaching the Tigers. I know he also has pride in what we have built here.

"I talked to him some when he came here that it might be a letdown after he had started in the SEC in front of all of those people — they had maybe 100,000 at Tennessee for his first college start at Arkansas — to enjoy a Friday night crowd. But he said it was still coaching and he enjoyed us filling up our place with 7,000."

There is irony that there may be less time for coaching in college than in high school. NCAA rules put severe limits on time coaches can work with players. There are no such limits in high school.

"We can put a helmet on them every day if we want," Barry, Sr., said. "We don't, but we get all the time we want. One of the things Barry did to help us when he came here to coach with us is show us some ways to improve our film study, our practice routines to get more done in a shorter time frame. He helped our perspective. But he's going to find out again that you don't have as much time with the players in college.

"We do spend a lot of time. We work seven days a week during the season. Sometimes we laugh about it, saying, ‘This is high school.' But things have changed in high school. We are using the same systems as far as computers and tape cut ups as the colleges. Our players login at home and do the same breakdowns and we can see what they do as far as studying on-line. The business of high school coaching has changed to the same systems and time as far as coaching hours as college."

For Barry Sr., the memories are two-fold. There is the time coaching with son, but there are also the days of coaching both Barry Jr., and Daniel to state titles at Fort Smith Southside. Barry Jr., actually helped coach his younger brother after a brief fling at professional baseball.

Barry Sr., has six state titles, one in 1991 with Barry and then in 1997 with Daniel.

"Now, I'm looking forward to going down there to see Barry coach with Coach Bielema," Barry Sr., said. "It's an exciting time for our family and for the Razorbacks."

Barry Jr., was coveted by Bielema both for his ability to coach and his ties to the program. A former captain and the leader of the 1995 team that won the SEC West and was first to travel to the title game in Atlanta, Lunney was viewed as a link to past lettermen by Bielema. Does he feel that responsibility?

"I definitely do," he said. "Coach Bielema talked to me about that and I got that feedback. That was definitely touched on in our talks. I feel a certain sense of responsibility.

"I think I am someone the lettermen identify with and it's a viable thing that I can relate to them and they can feel a trust and a sense of belonging when they are around.

"Obviously, that allowed me to get a foot in the door, that I played at Arkansas and that I also had instant relationships with Arkansas high school coaches. I have that experience with high school coaches here.

"But I will say this, it may have gotten my foot in the door, but it didn't help me a lot when I went on the grease board with (new UA offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney. My ability to communicate to him about football and begin to develop a relationship with Coach Chaney is what really helped me.

"I'm not just an Arkansas guy, I'm a Bret Bielema guy and not just a former Razorback."

Lunney went on the road to recruit as a graduate assistant at Arkansas as a replacement when Danny Nutt was sick and he also was on the road during stints at Tulsa and San Jose State. And he also was a student of the process as an assistant coach at Bentonville as recruiters went after Tigers.

"That has helped me," he said. "Certainly, it didn't hurt me. I thought I was doing it the right way when I was in college, but I could see if there were other ways and what was the wrong way.

"It gave me confidence that I was a good recruiter. It verified what I was doing was right as far as forging relationships on both sides of the fence."

Lunney said he didn't know Chaney before their meetings, but he had studied him through an ESPN feature when Tennessee's offense was showcased in a behind-the-scenes show.

"I had seen things he did," Lunney said. "When he was miked up, it was refreshing and he was personable. At the same time, I saw that he was very demanding. So I had a high respect going into our meetings. I also knew that it was critical that Jim felt comfortable with me. I think we forged a good relationship."

It may not be what son had with father, but there is a relationship between the school that gives it a really good chance.

Barry Lunney prepares to deliver the game-winner against Alabama in 1995.

Barry Lunney ran the option for Danny Ford, but he came to Arkansas as a passer.

Barry Lunney will coach the tight ends for the Razorbacks.

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