Nate Olson: Bret Bielema Made Great Choice in Hiring Barry Lunney Jr.

Nate Olson Bio Page
To enjoy some down time, Barry Lunney Jr. brought his family with him. The first-year Arkansas assistant spoke at an FCA banquet Saturday night with wife Janelle and sons Luke and Levi in tow, and took in the Little Rock Zoo Sunday.

Lunney, who coaches tight ends for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team, had canvassed Arkansas evaluating recruits and visited with prep coaches. After the weekend’s activities he sent his family back to Northwest Arkansas, and he continued his trek.

When Tim Horton left his alma mater for Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn, I didn’t think first-year Hogs coach Bret Bielema could find a replacement that could recruit Arkansas like the Conway native. I was wrong.

Of course, I never figured Lunney to be in the running. He seemed to be set at Bentonville High School. He became one of the better offensive coordinators in the state and seemed to be the top candidate to replace his dad, Barry Lunney Sr., when he retired. In the meantime, the Tigers won 78 games in eight years, including 25 straight in 2010-11, played in four state titles and won two and won six straight 7A-West Conference titles. The Lunneys enjoyed success together. Life was good.

However, when Horton decided not to stick with Bielema, the coach needed an in-state recruiter with strong UA ties. He didn’t have to look far to find his man.

“In the world of college football there have been numerous examples of high school coaches joining a college coaching staff and making an immediate impact,” Bielema said of Barry Lunney Jr. in Arkansas’ news release at the time. “Barry has experienced success through his seven years as a college coach and at the highest levels in high school. He understands the demands of being a college coach, and the championship teams he helped lead at Bentonville High School routinely produced one of the state’s top offenses.

“He attended Razorback games starting at a very early age and generations of his family have been a part of building the tradition at Arkansas” Bielema said. “He was a captain who led this program to its first SEC Western Division title, and he will be a tremendous bridge to fill the gap between this coaching staff and all of our former letterwinners, high school coaches in Arkansas and the entire state.”

The great thing about Lunney, whose grandfather John lettered as a Razorback from 1946-49, is he is no stranger to the college game. He started 40 games at quarterback for the Hogs from 1992-95 and was team captain in his final year, as he led UA to the SEC Championship game. He served two seasons as a graduate assistant, and then coached three seasons at Tulsa as a quarterbacks and receiving coach.

His first stint as a college coach ended after he served as co-offensive coordinator at San Jose State for two seasons under former Hogs assistant Dr. Fitz Hill. Between his vast experience as a starting quarterback in the SEC, and seven years of collegiate coaching experience, Lunney needed no introduction to the college routine when he came back to the UA campus full-time in mid-January.

He left college coaching because of the carousel it can become. After some stability with his dad, he couldn’t pass up the chance to come back to his alma mater. He didn’t have to move across the country and uproot his family. It was a familiar scene and an easy transition in all respects.

Bielema made a crafty move, and just in the nick of time. He wanted to make sure that the previous staff didn’t miss any in-state prospects as National Signing Day loomed. Bielema made a beeline to Little Rock, and convinced a leery Hunter Henry (Pulaski Academy tight end) to honor his commitment to the Hogs, while trying to court North Little Rock running back Altee Tenpenny, who eventually stayed true to his Alabama pledge.

The trip was an easy one for Lunney. As a prep football coach with deep connections statewide, he knew where to look for diamonds in the rough. He found Osceola’s Korliss Marshall, who was prepared to sign with Central Arkansas. Lunney evaluated the speedy former prep running back and offered him a scholarship as a defensive back.

Lunney also took a long look at Little Rock Central wide receiver AJ Tucker. They decided not to offer, but many wondered why it took so long for the 6-foot-3, 195-pound two-way player to get a serious look from the Hogs. In the first few weeks on the job, Lunney spent more time looking at Tucker than the interim staff of John L. Smith or fired coach Bobby Petrino.

The point is, Barry Lunney Jr. did more evaluations in a short amount of time than any other assistant possibly could. That makes him invaluable. He proved his worth within the first month on campus (or in a car driving border to border). Now, he actually can take his time during the spring period and shake hands with the many coaches he has built relationships with at Bentonville, as well as some of his dad’s old friends.

I always said there wasn’t an Arkansas prep coach that would turn down a visit from Horton. The same could be said about Lunney. As a former star quarterback at Fort Smith Southside and his stint with the Hogs, he is a household name among his former peers. When you add to it that his dad is a coaching legend and well liked, that only helps matters. Like Horton, the Lunney’s are fine Christian men that respect those around them. That is a trait that is admired among the coaching fraternity in this state.

Bielema lost an icon in Horton, but was resourceful enough to replace him with the right guy that has a great coaching sense and an ability to secure the state’s borders.

Tags: , , , ,