Georgia Southern athletic director Jared Benko said before the season that 7-6 and 8-5 football records are not acceptable at Georgia Southern University. With the Eagles sitting at 1-3 and still having tall tests ahead, Benko announced Sunday that he was relieving head coach Chad Lunsford of his coaching duties effective immediately.
“After a thorough review and evaluation of our football program, I have made a decision that a change in leadership is in the best interest of our team and university,” Benko said. “I want to thank coach Lunsford for his hard work and the impact he has had on the student-athletes within our program. I wish Chad and his family success in the future.”
The timing of the firing coincides with a video that surfaced Sunday showing Georgia Southern senior defensive lineman Gavin Adcock standing on top of a moving bus the Eagles were riding in on the way to Saturday’s game against Louisiana at Paulson Stadium. When passing the university’s fraternity houses, Adcock was thrown a beer, which he chugged and celebrated afterward. A player wearing the number 6 also was on top of the bus sitting while wearing headphones.
Monday, Benko announced that Adcock was suspended indefinitely and went on to answer whether or not the release of the video played a part in Lunsford’s firing.
“What was shown in that video is not acceptable, it is being handled and will not be an issue in the future,” Benko said. “It wasn’t one issue. It was a comprehensive review, and I was at the point where I felt it was time for a new direction.’’
Benko said he met with Lunford and then with the team Sunday. He went on to say he wants Georgia Southern to have an identity of being highly disciplined, blue collar and tough.
“We have a strong vision for Georgia Southern football, and we are not meeting it,” Benko said. “Our current performance doesn’t match our vision of comprehensive excellence.”
Benko also announced that cornerbacks coach Kevin Whitley was promoted to interim head coach. Whitley is a former All-American at Georgia Southern, playing from 1988-91. He was a successful high school coach at Stockbridge High School prior to coming to Georgia Southern in 2019.
“We are fortunate to have someone on our staff with his head coaching experience,” Benko said. “Coach Whitley was an All-American at Georgia Southern and he knows what Georgia Southern football is all about.”
As far as who the Eagles may pursue to fill the head coaching position permanently, Benko said they will look at current head coaches as well as assistant coaches. He went on to say the hiring process will be kept confidential and that if word is revealed from sources that they interviewed or as being a leading candidate, Benko said he will assume that they are not interested in the job. As for what offense the Eagles will run, he said that depends on what the coach wants to run.
Benko also said it’s highly unlikely they will hire someone until the season has concluded. He said one benefit of moving forward now is that he has time for conversations and to have preliminary work done. He also believes the contacts he has made in 20 years at four schools in the SEC will help him tremendously in the search process.
“We will have a search committee but ultimately the buck stops with me,” he said. “With 20 years in the SEC, I have built a lot of contacts, which I can utilize in the coaching search. I am very confident that when all is said and done, we will have a great candidate here.”
Benko revealed that Lunsford will be paid the remainder of his contract through the end of the year. There is also an $800,000 buy out which will be paid out to Lunsford monthly from January 2022 through December of 2022.
Former Eagle players weighed in on the firing of Lunsford as well as the incident that may have ultimately caused it.
“The yellow buses have been part of our tradition and is one of the things that makes our program unique,” said former Eagle running back Mark Myers. “I think they took it a little too far and the fact that it was caught on video magnified the situation. I was a little shocked to see the change, but being a coach myself I understand this business. I think coach Whitley is the right man to take over as an interim coach and I hope people rally behind him and the players.”
“I hate to see coaches get fired,” said former Eagle linebacker Michael Ward. “I am currently a high school football coach and I feel like coaches are getting fired way too easy nowadays. Coach Lunsford is a great Christian man and I think he does everything the right way. His players fight for him, his coaches love him, he supports everything about GSU. I strive to be the coach, father and husband that he is.
“That being said our record is 1-3, which is not the Georgia Southern standard,” Ward said. “There have also been some behaviors displayed that definitely don’t fall under the ‘Do Right’ mentality. I feel like he deserved the whole season to address any behavioral issues and to try and turn the season around.”
Lunsford took over the Georgia Southern program on an interim basis in 2017 after Tyson Summers was fired. Lunsford was named head coach for the 2018 season. His team went 10-3 and he led the Eagles to a Camellia Bowl victory over eastern Michigan.
The Eagles went 7-6 in 2019 and ended the season losing to Liberty 23-16 in the Cure Bowl. Last season, the Eagles finished 8-5 and ended the year with a 38-3 New Orleans Bowl victory over Louisiana Tech.
The Eagles have not won a conference championship in seven years, which is the tied for the longest period Georgia Southern has gone without winning a conference title. Lunsford finished his career with a 28-21 record in four-plus seasons.