Evin Demirel Visits with Bentonville’s Barry Lunney Sr.


Barry Lunney Sr

The original version of this story on Barry Lunney Sr. ran in the November issue of Celebrate Arkansas magazine. It is reprinted with the permission of Celebrate Arkansas. All photos courtesy of the Lunney family.

Visit Evin's Author PageEvery fall, we get a preview of the state high school football finals. For the last three years, Bentonville and Fayetteville have first vied in regular season game for the crown of the state’s strongest conference before meeting again in December’s state finals. 

This year, the big game goes down this Friday in Fayetteville. Defending state champion Fayetteville (8-1) is in danger of losing its second straight game after a 34-31 loss to Springdale Har-Ber last week, while Bentonville (7-2) has picked up speed since losing to out of state opponents early on. The Tigers crushed Springdale on the road 38-0 last week. Now  can the Tigers, led by head coach Barry Lunney Sr., beat the Bulldogs in the regular season for the sixth straight time?

Success has always been a part of Lunney Sr.’s coaching career. Previous stints at Greenwood, Fordyce, Beebe and Fort Smith proved it. But  the last few years have ranked as Lunney’s best: six straight titles in the state’s most competitive conference, four state title game appearances, two titles  and a winning clip  seemingly allergic to anything below 90 percent.

By most any metric, Lunney Sr. has had one of the strongest runs in state coaching history in his ninth season at Bentonville High School. He and his coaches have built a bonafide  powerhouse that is looking to vie for Lunney’s seventh career state title.

But while the destination remains the same, the path has changed. For the last eight years, Lunney, Sr. coached alongside his son Barry Lunney, Jr.  That duo ended this past offseason when Lunney, Jr. was hired to coach tight ends at the University of Arkansas, his alma mater.

Aaron Danenhauer replaced Lunney, Jr. as Bentonville’s offensive coordinator, and Lunney Sr. is confident he’ll continue to do a fine job. Still, Lunney couldn’t help feeling mixed emotions  about his son’s departure, as he told me in an early-season interview:

What do you miss most about coaching with your son?

“It was a little hard earlier… It’s like any scenario where you work with someone or you’re around them for a long time. Sometimes you just get used to something and then you realize it’s not there and then you realize, boy, how special it really was.

I pretty much knew well that someday we’d lose him. I really didn’t think we’d work together that long. I thought he’d be here a year or two and then back into college [coaching]. I tried to enjoy as much of it as I could and was aware of the fact that it was a pretty special deal to be able to work with one of your children … He was really a joy to watch and lead the kids and work with the quarterbacks and game planning. It was a joy for me to be able to watch that as a dad. I miss that – just having him around, just seeing him everyday. Not many parents get that opportunity.”

How often do you get to see him these days?

“I haven’t seen him in quite a while. We try to talk on the phone occasionally but it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve seen him. He hit the ground running quite heavily up there [at the UA].”

What do you think of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema?

“Oh, I’m very excited. I had an opportunity to meet with him early on, before Barry even got hired … He’s  done a wonderful job reaching out to coaches and people around the state to find out about the culture of our state. He asked me and gave the opportunity to share a high school coach’s perspective as I’m sure he’s done with some other coaches too. I really appreciated that …  I really enjoyed that two or three hours that I got to visit with him. I’m very encouraged about where we’re headed with our program at the university.”

What do you and Barry, Jr. do for fun away from football?

“He loves to fish. If he could make a living fishing, I’m sure he’d probably try to do that. We fished out on Beaver Lake, and he’s got a boat. He,barry lunney sr with family myself, and Daniel – my youngest son – and my son-in-law F.J., we float the Kings River and have a good time. We’ve gone to St. Louis and watched the Cardinals before. We try to do some guy things together when we can … I’m very blessed. Our family is very close. I have nine grandkids; I have three kids.”

Speaking of family, you’re from Fort Smith. Southside High School is where you won four state titles. Do you still have a lot of family left there?

“ No, my parents have both passed away. The ones left are my son Daniel and an aunt.”

Do you attach your identity  to a certain city anymore?

“Well, Fort Smith is always gonna be a very special place for me. I mean, I grew up there and played at Northside High School, spent 16 wonderful – absolutely fabulous – years at Southside. I had my sons play quarterback for me – both of them won state championships. How many dads ever get to say that? …

But it was time to do something different, and this opportunity came and we’ve just been so blessed here. We’ve really enjoyed our time, it’s a very special place to us as well.”

Bentonville has been so successful these last five years. Obviously, there’s lots of talent and good coaching there. Still, in that span only three Tigers went on to play high major college football.

Why not more?

“We’ve had our fair share,  but more Division II kids who were just not quite tall enough, maybe just not quite fast enough. I’m blessed that I have a great group of coaches who work really hard to develop kids and we have a bunch of young men who want to be a part of something and really work hard. They may not be the tallest or fastest but they’re good high school football players. They maximize their talent and ability … You know, I get a little frustrated sometimes that they [big college coaches] don’t look at these kids because they’re a half second slow or ‘Oh gosh, I wish you were 6’2.’

Dallas Hardison is the perfect example. He was our  starting quarterback who won a state championship in 2010 and got into the finals in 2011 … Dallas was 5’10”. I believe this with all my heart, but if Dallas had been 6’2”, 6’1”ish, he’d have been a Top 5 quarterback in the nation. “

Even with these losses, your teams have done so much. Are there one or two accomplishments – on or off field – you’re most proud of?

“My faith is very important to me, as a Christian, a believer, and I just enjoy watching young men grow and mature. I know that’s a cliché but to me it really is – when you get a call from somebody during the year, an e-mail and they let you know that they’re living in Washington state, got three kids and tell me what they’re doing and all that. That is so much fun, to know that you’ve had a part in somebody’s life and they still want to let you know about it after years.

I was at a board meeting last night for the Northwest Arkansas Fellowship of Christian Athletes and I’m serving on it with Greg Stanfill, a guy I coached back in Greenwood in 1975. It’s just a joy to do that, those things that I’ve learned over the years are really the most important.”

Your team went  37-2 in 2010 through 2012. Both losses came in the state finals to Fayetteville after  beating them in the regular season. Has that been frustrating?

“Well, it has. It’s been real hard on our men and our staff but we’ve got to temper that – and I do temper that – with the fact that it’s hard to beat good programs once, let alone twice… It’s just very difficult when you have evenly matched programs. As I reminded everybody going into last year, Fayetteville had the No. 1  team that year. You’ve got three guys going to [play at] the University of Arkansas. And it was made out to be an upset when they beat us, but I’m not so sure that was the case.

I thought it was probably an upset when we beat them in week 10 [of 2012] with those type of kids.

I think back to the 2011 title game, when they beat us in overtime. I would consider that more of an upset. I think we were probably the better team. But stuff happens. I’m not gonna make excuses. They beat us and deserve it.”

Below are the results of the last six times Bentonville and Fayetteville have played. 

12/1/2012 31-20 (B-ville L)

11/2/2012 24-17 (B-ville W)

12/3/2011 29-28 (B-ville L)

9/23/2011 41-6 (B-ville W)

12/3/2010 49-28 (B-ville W)

9/24/2010 38-34 (B-ville W)

Who wins on Friday?

View Results

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For more from award-winning writer Evin Demirel, check out his magazine feature article on Bentonville’s showdown with one of the best programs in Texas. 

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