FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas is on the practice fields today for the first time since Chad Morris was fired on Sunday.
Barry Lunney Jr. is serving as the interim coach. Arkansas obviously has a lighter week considering they have a bye this weekend.
“Obviously it’s been a whirlwind the last few days,” Lunney said. “There’s a lot going on. A lot of emotions throughout our team and our staff. And for me personally, very little sleep, a lot of adrenaline pumping. A lot of things to think about. You hear this said all the time, you never appreciate what a coach goes through until you just step foot in his shoes for just a few days. I’ve been, mine’s just a little sliver of that and it’s certainly been non stop.
“But we’re excited to get back on the practice field today. We’re gonna practice today and tomorrow. It’ll be the first day we’ve been on the field since the transition. And our players were in a great frame of mind yesterday. We worked them out. We’re looking forward to getting on that field today and start preparing for LSU in 10 days and we’re just looking forward to that opportunity.”
Not just is Lunney serving as interim head coach, but he’s also coaching the tight ends. Will that be a challenge for you going into the game?
“I would say if I was doing tight ends, special teams and trying to step in as interim head coach, that’d probably be too much,” Lunney said. “That’s the beauty of being able to take Daniel Da Prato and put him as one of the 10 coaches. That’s going to take that off of my plate.
“I can solely focus on getting these guys from a tight-end perspective ready for the gameplan. We also have a group that’s pretty veteran-laden, so certainly we’re not leaving them on an island without being coached, but there’s a group there that kind of knows what’s going on and is tuned in to it. Those guys are veteran and they can kind of help navigate practice a little bit. I’m certainly going to bounce around. I’m not going to just be locked in with them the entire practice. I’m going to move around a little bit and be visible. I think it’s going to be something I’m going to be able to balance OK.”
Lunney joked about while he will now watch all of the position drills at practice at times there’s one thing he won’t do.
“Well, I’m not going to coach on defense,” Lunney said. “That’s the one thing I’ve never done in my background. I have no desire to do that and there’s no need for me to do that. I want to be able to have the freedom to walk on the other end during practice just for encouragement and just get a pulse and a vibe and just be visible. I think that’s important in this role. The guys on defense know I’m an offensive coach.
“One of the things that’s been really beneficial during this process is my time spent this year as special teams coordinator, I’ve been able to cross over both sides of the ball and develop strong relationships on both the defensive guys and the offensive guys. They know I’m about this team. I want to make sure that I’m seen and visible in other parts of the field.”
As far as Wednesday’s practice, sophomore linebacker Bumper Pool was in a yellow jersey. Sophomore offensive guard Kirby Adcock was in a green jersey. Prior to the practice, Lunney talked about the injuries including true freshman safety Jalen Catalon and junior wide receiver De’Vion Warren.
“I do anticipate Jalen Catalon not being available for the rest of the year,” Lunney said. “He had a minor injury that’s going to affect him and he’s going to be out the rest of the year. He’s on the rebound. He’ll be fine.”
Is Warren getting any closer to returning?
“Not really, maybe the open date will do him some good,” Lunney said. “Sure he’s getting closer, I shouldn’t say that. He’s not going backward. I’ll let you know more later in the week but right now, he’s improving but still not quite there.”
KJ Jefferson injured his shoulder against Western Kentucky, but was practicing on Tuesday without any apparent precautions. Is that anything that could keep him out of LSU game?
“I think so,” Lunney said. “It’s a non-throwing shoulder, a little bruise that I’ll think he’ll be more than fine.”
Lunney addressed the quarterback situation and how the reps will be split in practice.
“We’re going to let them all play a little bit,” Lunney said of practice. “And just like we are at a lot of different positions. Joe (Craddock) and I talked about that today and we’re just gonna kind of, as we ease into the week – and I don’t mean that in a soft term – but as we ease into the week of prep, we’re going to make sure that all those guys get to kind of re-establish themselves.
“We all know this. I mean, we’ve seen that play out during the course of the year and it’s been a carousel. There’s a reason it’s been a carousel. And I don’t mean that negatively. It’s just that one guy’s flashed here, one guy’s flashed there. We’re going to continue giving them an opportunity to show us what they’ve got down the stretch.”
Morris brought his entire offensive staff with him from SMU except for Lunney. How has it been serving as the interim coach as far the remainder of the assistants?
“They’ve been great,” Lunney said. “It’s been obviously a little strange. You go from being a peer — and I still am a peer — but being thrust into a role of leadership. And for me, it’s a little bit strange initially. But I’ve kind of gotten beyond that. I think they have to. I think they know somebody’s got to step in and take a leadership role and make decisions and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m very comfortable doing that and they’ve been really good.”
One more change of plans is Arkansas won’t be out recruiting this weekend as originally planned. Lunney explained why.
“No, we’re changing that,” Lunney said. “Our emphasis right now is this team. We’ve been working hard on the recruiting trail, just on the phones. One of the things we originally planned to do … the best thing we can do is go see the guys that are currently committed. Well, we’ve already done that. We’ve already used the fall evaluation period to hit every one of our guys that were committed or are currently committed. So you can’t double-dip that. So anything else beyond that right now, in my opinion, would be counter-productive.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Thursday.