The long Georgia Southern football season finally came to a close Saturday in Boone N.C. as the Eagles fell to Appalachian State 27-3.
The game was a good example of how the season has gone for the Eagles. They played pretty well for a while, cutting the lead to 7-3 late in the third quarter, but as has been the case, things snowballed from there. The ensuing kickoff was returned for a touchdown and the Eagles were outscored 20-0 the rest of the way.
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas had predicted the Eagles to finish 4-8, so a 3-9 season can’t be too shocking. Athletic director Jared Benko made it clear before the season that eight-win seasons weren’t acceptable at Georgia Southern and rather than wait to see if the Eagles could pull themselves out of a 1-3 tailspin to start the season, Benko believed it was best for the program to relive head coach Chad Lunsford of his coaching duties and promote interim head coach Kevin Whitley.
Whether Lunsford could have turned things around is up for debate. The number of key injuries the Eagles suffered throughout the season, along with the struggles at quarterback throughout the year, would have made an eight- or nine-win season pretty unrealistic. Even if he wasn’t let go after four games, the end result would have probably been the same for coach Lunsford.
The only difference that would have happened if Benko had waited till the end of the season to fire Lunsford would have been that the Eagles probably wouldn’t have Clay Helton as their head coach. Recruiting would have taken a hit as the next coach would have been named sometime in the next week or so and would have to scramble to make contacts with potential recruits.
Much of Eagle Nation is now preoccupied with the prospects of who will be coming to Georgia Southern next year through the transfer portal and high school recruiting. They are also flooding the message boards with rumors of who will be coming in to fill the roles left by the previous coaching staff.
The excitement of a new era at Georgia Southern may be understandable after a disappointing season, but lost in this is the fact that while many coaches’ families are anxious about moving to Statesboro, there are quite a few who have no idea where they will be next year and if they will even have a job.
Kevin Whitley is the only assistant coach who was retained by Coach Helton. That means Doug Ruse, Scot Sloan, Victor Cabral, Travis Cunningham, Jeremy Rowell, Joe Graves, Geep Wade, Derrick Sherman and Favian Upshaw all will be looking for new jobs immediately.
While Coach Lunsford will be paid $800,000 over the next year, the assistant coaches are only paid through January, but money is only one of the many things they have to worry about.
Many of them have wives and children who are most likely going to have to say goodbye to homes they were hopeful they would grow old in and friends they will dearly miss. And while it is true, they understood the risks that come with the profession, many of them got into coaching in order to make a difference in the lives of student athletes.
In a time when coaches are jumping out of one job in a Power 5 conference into another, there are some coaches who would have been happy to retire in Statesboro after a long career at Georgia Southern. I feel there are at least a few on the staff who would have been happy riding it out in Statesboro. Unfortunately, that will not be the case.
As a journalist and someone who has covered Georgia Southern athletics for more than 30 years, I have seen it happen in different forms. Some coaches have left for better employment opportunities and some have had to scramble as the decision to leave was made for them. You can’t help but grow close to some of these guys and it is always tough to say goodbye.
So, I would ask Eagle Nation that while they eagerly anticipate who will fill the positions Coach Helton has available, they don’t forget those who bled blue and white while putting the best interest of the student athletes at Georgia Southern University first for their tenure.
When my son Jordan informed his coach, Steve Pennington, he was leaving Statesboro and transferring to Portal, I was moved by Pennington telling him that “Once a Blue Devil, always a Blue Devil.” I would hope Eagle Nation would remember that as the former coaches attempt to move on.