Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Allen: Choice of Arkansas-born Lunney a reflection of past success
Arkansas assistant coach Barry Lunney Jr. directs his players Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, during practice at the university's practice facility in Fayetteville. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photos from practice.
FAYETTEVILLE — Nice seeing University of Arkansas football promote an Arkansan partly because he’s an Arkansan instead spurning him because he’s from Arkansas.
Athletic director Hunter Yurachek promoting Barry Lunney Jr. from tight ends coach/special teams coordinator to interim head coach upon the firing of head coach Chad Morris hints Arkansas roots abandoned since 2008 may finally be replanted. Perhaps even cultivated.
Lunney Jr. is the son of retired Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville High School coaching legend Barry Lunney Sr., and a star quarterback/baseball pitcher at Fort Smith Southside and a Razorback quarterback and baseball letterman (1992-95). He was a graduate assistant on Houston Nutt’s 1998-99 Razorbacks staffs and coached Razorbacks tight ends from 2013-17 for Bret Bielema and 2018-19 for Morris.
“He’s a Razorback through and through,” Yurachek said.
Obviously, it takes more than an Arkansas birth certificate and Razorbacks past to be a good Razorbacks coach, but it helps.
It really helped very good Arkansas teams recruited and coached by very good Arkansas-born coaches.
The Arkansas staffs from Frank Broyles through Houston Nutt abounded with coaches planted from Arkansas roots. Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame coaches such as Wilson Matthews, Barry Switzer, Harold Horton, Ken Turner, Jesse Branch, Jimmy Johnson and Steed White.
Razorbacks alums Louis Campbell and Tim Horton also come to mind.
Once Broyles was eased into athletic director retirement and succeeded by the since-fired Jeff Long, seems the Razorbacks deemphasized Arkansas.
Bobby Petrino, the first post-Broyles-era Razorbacks head football coach, designated Tim Horton his lone “Arkansas coach” extensively recruiting Arkansas.
Petrino paid Horton less than his Carroll College buddies on staff.
He should have paid him most. Horton’s recruited Arkansans: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Tyler Wilson, among others, fueled Petrino’s Arkansas success.
Lunney has been the “Arkansas” coach for Bielema and Morris.
Arkansas’ next head coach should expand UA staff connections and emphasize recruiting Arkansas.
“Whoever we bring in, I hope they keep our homegrown talent in state,” Darren McFadden, the Razorbacks College of Fame inductee running back from Little Rock, tweeted. “If you look back, the majority of the time when we’ve had successful teams the core group of guys are from Arkansas.”
Easy when the Arkansas core is a high school All-American like McFadden. But past Razorbacks Arkansas-born All-Americans like Dan Hampton, Jimmy Walker and Wayne Martin, among others, weren’t much recruited by any but Arkansas.
And lesser Arkansas-born talent still proved significantly better for Arkansas than many more heralded signed from elsewhere.
“Now you’ve got to get kids from other states,” Jim Mabry, a 1989 Razorbacks All-American offensive tackle for Ken Hatfield, said during a recent Hawgs Illustrated interview. “I’m one of those guys. I came from Memphis. But the Arkansas kids are the ones who have the culture, who have the passion that set the tone. To me, if all things look equal, you take the Arkansas kid.”
Good that Hunter Yurachek just did.
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