When the clock struck zero on October 21st and Tyson Summers’ final game as head coach of Georgia Southern ended with a 55-20 thrashing at the hands of previously winless UMass, Georgia Southern looked like they had hit absolute rock bottom. It looked unlikely that the Eagles would win a single game during the 2017 season. Media pundits around the country were marveling at what had happened to a program that won the Sun Belt in its first full FBS season and was on a fast trajectory to be a top G5 team in its first two FBS seasons.
When Summers was fired the next day, the season was pretty much written off. The Eagle Faithful immediately began speculating on who the next coach would be. A Paul Johnson/Jeff Monken disciple? A spread offense FCS coach? Someone with previous connections? Someone with no connections?
A funny thing happened over the course of the next month, though. Georgia Southern went from looking inept on both sides of the ball to showing signs of life. The Eagles – who hardly put up a fight in any of the first 6 games – were suddenly fighting teams late. They should have won the Georgia State game. They fought hard against App in Boone on a Thursday night.
Then, on November 18th against South Alabama, Georgia Southern suddenly looked like the Eagles of old. The defense was flying to the ball and making excellent tackles. DBs who were getting torched in the early season were ball hawks who let nothing get behind them. The offense was gaining chunk yards on the ground running tosses and option plays and throwing deep balls.
For one glorious Senior Day in Allen E. Paulson Stadium, Georgia Southern was Georgia Southern again.
There have been signs of this coming since Summers was fired. On-field discipline issues began to disappear. A team that played like they were going through the motions suddenly were playing with fire and passion.
They were, in short, showing up and showing out.
I’m sure credit is due to a number of people. I don’t know much about Tyson Summers’ leadership style or the way he handled the program, so I don’t know what the internal dynamics were before his firing. What I do know, though, is that once Chad Lunsford took over as Interim Head Coach, the Eagles slowly began improving from week to week. What once was a team that looked clueless now looks like a team ready to compete with anyone.
Georgia Southern is looking into a number of candidates for the head coaching job that cross a number of football philosophies. By some accounts, the Eagles are prepared to fork out more money than they have previously to get the right person to get the Eagles back on track. What is becoming obvious with every week is that they may not need to look further than the man who already has the title of Head Coach.
Lunsford has the GATA attitude needed to run a college football program. His players obviously love playing for him just judging from behind-the-scenes videos and the way they’ve increased their game. He appears excellent at motivating players and coaches and better at managing coaches given the improvements in on-field discipline, effort, and fundamentals.
Chad also loves Georgia Southern. When TK hired Tyson Summers, he wanted to hire a coach who would stick around the program and build something for a while. Lunsford has been at Georgia Southern under multiple head coaches and bleeds True Blue more than almost anyone else.
He doesn’t have the resume that the other candidates have. He has no experience as a coordinator. His only head coaching experience has been the last four games. But, again, those four games have seen a team go from clueless to contenders. There’s precedent for a situation like this. Look no further than Dabo Swinney at Clemson. He went from a position coach to one of the best head coaches in the nation. Why? Because he makes good hires, manages his coaches well, is an excellent recruiter, and his players love to play for him. While we don’t know about his hiring of coaches, Lunsford fits every other category and he has certainly shown the ability to redirect the efforts of the coaches he inherited.
When the smoke clears and a hire is finally made, the odds are that it won’t be Chad Lunsford being named the full-time head coach in Statesboro. TK will be doing a serious disservice to the school and the players on the team if he doesn’t watch the next two games closely, though. Perhaps Saturday’s performance was an aberration. A fluke due to the emotion of one final game in Paulson Stadium for the Seniors. Perhaps not, though. The steady improvement over the last few weeks seems to indicate it is more a sign of things to come. A sign of the efforts of a great leader showing fruit. Of a team showing up and showing out. The final two games of the season should tell us a lot more about him and his coaching abilities.
Chad Lunsford has shown over the last four games that he deserves a legitimate shot to earn that title of Head Coach in truth. I, for one, would not be upset at all if he were given the job.
*Note: This article has been edited because I somehow have never noticed that Chad’s last name was spelled “Lunsford” and not “Lundsford.” I apologize to him for that error.