Late on Sunday afternoon, the Georgia Southern football team announced that it is moving in a new direction.
A disappointing 5-7 record in 2016 and a disastrous 0-6 start to the current season brought about the firing of head coach Tyson Summers. Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Chad Lunsford was named interim coach of the team and both Lunsford and Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein held a press conference Monday afternoon at the Ted Smith Family Football Center.
“I had conversations with (university president) Dr. Hebert and with the Athletic Foundation,” Kleinlein said. “We came to the decision to make a change. There are a lot of parts of this program that people don’t see that are in great shape because of what Tyson did for us. Unfortunately, the progress on the field wasn’t coming along as quickly as we wanted.”
Summers won his first three games as the Eagles’ head coach, but went just 2-13 following the initial success. In his final game this past weekend, Georgia Southern was crushed 55-20 by a previously winless Massachusetts team.
And so the torch has been passed to Lunsford to try and regain some momentum for the team.
“What an opportunity. It’s a blessing,” Lunsford said. “Georgia Southern is a special place. It hasn’t gone how we want this year, but I’m fired up because I know these guys. I know what they put in every day.”
In addition to already having the title of assistant head coach, Lunsford seemed a natural fit to be the interim coach. The 40-year old first hit the Georgia Southern sideline from 2003-05 as a member of Mike Sewak’s staff. Lunsford returned as an assistant under Jeff Monken and elected to remain with the Eagles as both Monken and — following his departure for Army — Willie Fritz left their head coaching posts.
Lunsford hopes that the relationships he has built as both a recruiter and coach for the current team will help to ease yet another bump in what has been an extremely rocky road this season.
And while moving on and finishing the season on a better note is the current focus, Lunsford has been around the current players — and the coaching game in general — to know that Sunday’s events will stay with the team.
“Teams get close to their head coach,” Lunsford said. “When changes are made, there’s confusion, but I think they’re in a good place. They understand that there are expectations at Georgia Southern and that changes happen when you don’t meet those expectations.”
As for the ‘interim’ tag now attached to Lunsford, there seem to be plenty of possibilities.
Kleinlein stated that a national search will begin immediately. He also stressed that the ability to have a coach installed shortly after the end of the regular season would be a plus as the new early signing period is set for Dec. 20.
He also said that the next six games will be something on Lunsford’s resume to consider and fielded multiple questions about whether he felt obliged to stick to the option offense that has produced so much success in Statesboro.
“We’re going to find the best coach for Georgia Southern,” Kleinlein said. “I don’t think we’re different than any institution at this level. I’m confident that our community will attract successful people and that it has the resources that will keep them here.”
Both Kleinlein and Lunsford are confident that the team is stable moving forward and that the primary focus will be on winning football games.
But another issue will be convincing the fans.
Georgia Southern has had anemic showings in each of its two games at Paulson Stadium this season. A little over 13,000 attended a Wednesday night loss to Arkansas State and the sub-17,000 crowd for New Mexico State was a far cry from any homecoming game in recent memory.
A student protest — albeit a small one — was staged at Sweetheart Circle last week and the mounted losses have led to an avalanche of negative comments and calls for boycotts on social media.
To those fans, Lunsford’s message was quick and to the point.
“Show up. Because we’re going to show out.”