When Tyson Summers was fired in the middle of the 2017 season rather than promote his offensive or defensive coordinator Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein turned the reigns over to Chad Lunsford. Monday morning AD Jared Benko passed over his coordinators as well as he handed the interim coaching duties to cornerbacks coach Kevin Whitley.
“Coach Whitley knows what Georgia Southern football is all about,” said Benko. “You have someone who was a very successful high school head coach and has made an impact here. The guys here respect him and all the guys on the team know him very well, not just his secondary group. To me it was a pretty easy decision because I feel he is the best person for the job. My job is to support him the best I can, and I have a ton of confidence in him.”
Whitley came to Georgia Southern in 2019 after a successful career coaching high school football including going 99-28 with five region titles at Stockbridge high school. Whitley is also a former Georgia Southern All-American playing from 1988-1991.
In 2019 as defensive backs coach he has a stellar group including Kindle Vildor, Monquavion Brinson and Jessie Liptrot who combined for three interceptions and 22 pass break ups. Vildor was named a first-team all-conference selection and was taken in the fifth round of the NFL Draft while Brinson set a new conference record for career passes defended and a new school record for career pass break ups.
“I am very humbled by this opportunity,” said Whitley. “Being a Georgia Southern Eagle for over 30 years this is a very special place for me, and I am grateful for being given this opportunity. I have been getting a lot of messages from former teammates and friends. I also want to thank my wife and my family as I don’t know how many people understand the sacrifices, they make to be a coach's wife and kids.”
Though he does have head coaching experience Whitley admitted this is a big difference and he has turned to friends and peers for advice.
“One of the unique things about being a high school coach is you meet a lot of college coaches when they come recruit your schools,” said Whitley. “I have a lot of those guys I have called and will call to get some information from. Our number one concern right now is our student athletes particularly our senior class. We want to make sure we send them out the right way. The focus is rallying the troops and making sure we are pulling in the same direction.”
Whitley said he is in a similar situation to many of the players as coach Lunsford recruited him to Georgia Southern which makes taking over the program bittersweet.
“I have a lot of respect for coach Lunsford,” said Whitley. “He’s the reason I’m here as he c=gave me an opportunity and I have tried to support him and make the most of the opportunity he gave me. I think all of us are in the same boat as we all have strong feelings for him, but right now when adversity hits you have to step up and find a way to get it done.”
Whitley now has five days to prepare for Arkansas State on Saturday and while he plans on getting into the gameplan with coaches this week his current focus is on the Eagles and not the Red Wolves.
“Right now, our biggest opponent is ourselves,” said Whitley. “We are going to work to get better and do the things we need to do in terms of blocking and tackling. We need to make sure everyone is on the same page and believes in what we are doing and go out Saturday and play to the best of our ability.”
While much of the talk Monday surrounded how the players are doing Whitley also pointed out that he has met with the Georgia Southern assistant coaches, many of whom are concerned for their futures and those of their families.
“Normally we are here Sunday night till 10 or 11 o’clock at night,” said Whiley. “Yesterday when we finished with practice, I told all the coaches to go home and kiss their wife and kiss their kids and make sure everybody is alright. It’s a tough situation for coaches as well as players. We want to make sure everything is alright at home because I have learned if you aren’t happy at home, you aren’t very effective here.”
“I wanted those guys to know I am pulling for them, and I am there for them,” said Whitley. “I am going to support them any way I can to make this situation better. We have one family expecting a kid in December, another in February and a newborn just a few months ago so we have a lot a new Eagles and we want to make sure they are all good.”
The Eagles will host Arkansas State Saturday at 4:00 at Paulson Stadium.