LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As the SEC losing streak reached 19 games on Friday afternoon in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium another 2-10 season is laid to rest.
Arkansas hasn’t won an SEC game since Connor Limpert kicked a field goal as time expired on Oct. 28, 2017, against Ole Miss. The Razorbacks finished that season 4-8 and Bret Bielema was fired shortly after Missouri handed them a loss in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Enter Chad Morris and a pair of 2-10, 0-8 seasons in the SEC were to follow. The idea when Bielema was fired following a four-win season was to take two years combined to win that number. Morris was fired Nov. 10 with a 4-18 mark and Barry Lunney Jr. served as interim coach finishing 0-2 in a no-win situation. Injuries, mumps, bad football, continued inconsistent play at quarterback and elsewhere prevented Lunney from getting a win.
But the 2019 season is complete. It is now up to Arkansas’ Hunter Yurachek, the director of athletics, to fix the football program. He can’t do it with a good hire. He has to make a great one. The task won’t be easy for the new coach, but maybe won’t be as difficult as it now appears.
Senior linebacker De’Jon Harris talked about his message to the returning players.
“I told the younger guys last night that just have faith and just buy in,” Harris said. “Just give the coach a chance. I feel like the majority of the guys didn’t buy in over these last two years with Coach Morris and you could see what happened. It not just the coach’s fault like the players play a big part in it too.
“I told them grow up. We played as freshmen, we grew up fast and we understand what they’re going through, but that’s gonna have to be the thing when a new coach comes in everybody has to buy in.”
What does Arkansas need in the next coach?
“I feel like they just need someone to come in and demand everything from everyone,” Harris said. “Don’t slack off of any player. Treat everyone as one. I feel like once you do that and players see that they’ll respect you more and do everything for you.”
Treating everyone the same has that been lacking the past two years?
“In some areas yes,” Harris said. “Like I said every player has got to give that coach a chance and buy in first. The coach is gonna come in and have things you don’t like to do, you’re not comfortable and used to doing, but you buy in and give him a chance you’ll have a different outcome than we had.”
Harris talked about how closely he will be following the coaching search now that the season has concluded.
“I’m not gonna really be following the search,” Harris said. “When I hear the news and whenever y’all leak it out I’ll be happy for who it is. I just hope those guys just have a better career and better experience than I had because it sucks not going to a bowl game three years in a row. So I just hope they have a better career than we had and they don’t have to go through this what we just went through.”
A little luck might help the next coach too. As if Lunney wasn’t faced with taking his team to Baton Rouge to face LSU the first week, he was missing several players on Friday due to a mumps outbreak at the UA.
“It’s been a challenge,” Lunney said. “It’s not an excuse. It’s been a challenge. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen anything like it. And don’t know if I will again. We’ve not necessarily been ravaged, but we’ve been dealt some tough blows just through the injury and through the sickness and the illnesses. We were just kind of a shell of ourselves in some areas out there today. And even from a morale standpoint, it’s hard to overcome those types of things.
“Again, not an excuse. Missouri out-played us and deserved to win the game today. And I’m sure they’re dealing with some of those same challenges as well. But it’s been very unique to deal with the things we’ve dealt with in my short time here.”
Lunney fielded questions following the game including if he would interview for the job?
“That’s out of my control,” Lunney said. “I know this, I know the Lord’s got a plan for me in my life and I’m looking forward to seeing what that involves.”
While it’t obvious Lunney wished he could have won a game or two while leading the Hogs these final two games, but what did it mean to him to coach his alma mater even if just these games?
“It’s been a special time (voice filled with emotion),” Lunney said. “Despite the circumstances, it’s been a special time. I will always remember the way these guys have gotten behind me and listened to me and followed me.
“I’m very disappointed that we couldn’t come out with one today. I thought we were going to get one today. I really did. I thought we were going to. There were moments in the game I thought we were going to. But it doesn’t take away from this being a very special time for me.”
While Lunney may or may not be involved in the program going forward he does have some things for the next two weeks.
“It’s going to be a critical time,” Lunney said. “There’s no doubt. One of the first things and the goal I set forth for our team during the interim was that we wanted to protect the integrity of our program. We talked about these things at length, so it’s going to be critical. I challenged them in the locker room. Those that were in the locker room with us heard it very clearly. Listen, this is “You’ve got to be a grown man” time. You’re a full-blown college athlete. Men do what they gotta do and boys do what they wanna do.
“I challenged them to be grown men and to handle their responsibilities. I reminded them that the slate they’re writing right now will be handed immediately to whoever’s the sitting head coach and it will start from scratch. This will carry over with them to a large degree. That’s how you go about doing that. I’m very confident that these guys will see to it to do those things the right way.”
As far as the past two weeks, is there anything you would do differently?
“No. No, there’s not,” Lunney said. “I think I focused on the right things and I wouldn’t do anything over again.”
And not making a mistake like the last coaching search resulted in is what Yurachek can’t afford to happen. He wasn’t part of the last search, but Arkansas has to find the right coach so it’s a must that Yurachek get this one right though once again the last one was not because of him. Fault for the last one doesn’t matter, getting this one right does.