Throughout a tumultuous weekend that saw Georgia Southern Football fall to 1-3 on the season, a controversial viral video on social media and the dismissal of head coach Chad Lunsford, comments I read about the program kept referring to tradition.
Tradition dictates that Georgia Southern shouldn’t be struggling to three consecutive losses and the prospect of not being a threat in the Sun Belt conference.
Tradition dictates that the Eagles’ offense should be more explosive and that the defense shouldn’t be committing costly penalties and surrendering backbreaking deep passes.
Tradition dictates that — win or lose — Eagle players follow Erk Russell’s mantra of “Do Right” and not put themselves or the team in the spotlight for pregame theatrics that will call the team’s focus or discipline into question.
There’s nothing wrong with tradition. It instills plenty of pride and sets benchmarks for what is expected of each new team to don the Blue and White. And when the offseason is dragging on and the old classics find their way onto the screen, there’s no mind-altering drug quite like the sweet bliss of nostalgia.
However, the thing about tradition is that it requires a lot of hard work and forward thinking in the present to ensure that those traditions will remain rooted in pride and positivity as the years go on.
Over the last 72 hours, many fans of Georgia Southern seem to be taking solace in looking back to the good old days, pining for coaches and schemes and attitudes of the past in order to provide comfort. Others are content to sink into the negativity, slinging mud and barbs with fans of other teams on various social media platforms and hoping to deal a blow to the ego of another program in an attempt to regain some sort of moral or competitive footing.
Those strategies might help a distraught fan — or even some disheartened players — to feel better for a moment, but the real solution for what currently ails the program is going to require Georgia Southern to look inward and forward.
Ironically, the person setting the best example for this strategy is the coach that was just relieved of his duties.
In an open letter to the Georgia Southern community posted Tuesday, Lunsford thanked fans for their support and the school for his opportunity to coach. He also acknowledged that there were some shortcomings on his watch, either off the field or in the win-loss column, that weren’t up to the school’s standards. It was also evident in his post that he intends to learn and grow from his current low point in order to find more success in his next endeavor.
No excuses. No hard feelings. A good final example to his team about how to face adversity.
Now, about the problem at hand…
I’m no coach. If there’s some X’s and O’s solution, I’m not the one to come up with it. But I don’t think it takes a seasoned head coach to suggest a little introspection.
Over the last few seasons, even good days for Georgia Southern seem to lead to conversations about what everyone else is doing. When Troy became the first Sun Belt team to attain a top-25 ranking, there was plenty of grumbling about how it should have been Georgia Southern. Similar feelings were abound in 2018 and 2019 when the celebrations of wins over a ranked Appalachian State squad quickly transformed into a discussion about when the Eagles could finally get a spot in the poll.
Each offseason, there is no shortage of bickering about which Sun Belt team has the highest rated recruiting class and what that says about each coaching staff and the future for each team.
Every Saturday morning, posts on message boards run amok over which G5 or Sun Belt teams get more mentions on College Gameday or whether a Georgia Southern flag or sign makes it on the air.
Granted, those issues all revolve around the fan base, but it’s not at all uncommon to see players - for Georgia Southern and other teams alike - wade into Twitter fights or speak a little loosely in regards to teams that aren’t their own.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a peek over the fence to see how green the neighbor’s yard is. The problem arises when you’re doing that all day and ignoring the weeds and ants running through your own grass.
Now is the time for the Eagles to do some maintenance and landscaping. There are issues, to be sure. Injuries have left the defense with pockets of inexperience that continue to be exposed. The offense has shown flashes of promise, but runs into big trouble any time it suffers a negative play or is forced into predictable passes. Penalties continue to pop up at the most inopportune times, with opponents seemingly capitalizing to the fullest on all of them.
It may be that none of those problems has a solution that can be found in a week’s time with an interim coach at the helm. It’s also foolish to think that a 1-3 record, some bad press and a head coaching change is the end of the world.
The quicker everyone involved with the program can shake things off, the quicker things can get back to where they should be.
Georgia Southern just got beat by a top-10 Arkansas team that was a laughing stock 18 months ago. Coastal is becoming a standard-bearer for the Sun Belt despite being a brand new FCS team 15 years ago. You could have been trapped under a rock in Statesboro a few years ago and still know that 10 losses can turn into 10 wins in just a year’s time.
For college football teams that focus on the right areas and do the right things, drastic changes can come about in no time. And while the last few paragraphs haven’t changed the fact that I’m still not a coach, I can guarantee that none of the things that will contribute to a reversal of fortunes include obsessing over what rivals are doing, what formation is being run and who might be on a plane that you’re tracking into Statesboro.
The tradition that Georgia Southern fans most want to maintain is the tradition of winning.
Those years of winning were accomplished via coaches that players would follow, players who put in a smart and full effort in both practice and games, and with a fanbase that filled up stands — and booster positions — without scoreboard watching or reading everyone else’s press clippings.
The old saying goes that, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”
That’s supposed to be a warning against laziness or complacency, but for a program with a rich tradition it wants to keep, it’s the perfect advice. Coaches and players will always change. Strategies and schemes are bound to wander eventually.
When the goal of a team is to show up focused, beat whoever is in front of them that week, then plan to do it again in seven days, that’s how you keep up a winning tradition.
It's a new day. It's a new regime.
But it's the same goal, with the same tradition in mind.
And the next kickoff and chance to live up to tradition is just around the corner.