Georgia Southern athletics director, interim coach answer questions day after Lunsford’s firing
STATESBORO, Ga. (WTOC) - The Georgia Southern University Athletics Department held a news conference Monday afternoon a day after the head football coach was fired.
The university announced Sunday that Chad Lunsford was relieved of his duties after a 1-3 start the season.
“You know, when you make these decisions, you look through the lens of what is in the best long-term interest of the program. We have a strong vision for Georgia Southern football, and we’re not meeting it,” said Georgia Southern University Athletic Director Jared Benko.
Cornerbacks coach Kevin Whitley has been tapped as interim head coach for the rest of the 2021 season while the university begins a national search for their next head coach.
“I think one of the advantages coming into this role was 20 years in the SEC at four different institutions, there’s a lot of contacts, and when you go through a search process you utilize those contacts, and I’m very confident that when all is said and done, we’re going to have a great candidate here,” said Benko.
Georgia Southern Athletics Director Jared Benko addressed the media Monday afternoon less than 24 hours after announcing the program parted ways with Lunsford, who had been at the helm of the Eagles program since mid-2017.
Whitley, who was in his third season in Statesboro as cornerbacks coach, suited up for the Eagles from 1988 to 1991 as a four-year starter in Statesboro, helping Georgia Southern win two national titles.
“Everybody has a role. Whether you’re scout team or no team, you know, if you’ve got that blue jersey on, it means something, and so, as long as you’ve got that jersey on, we’re going to do it one way- that’s the Georgia Southern way. We’re going to do right. I heard that more than I could ever hear when I was here, and that’s something I took great pride in, so that’s something that I will continue to do. We’re going to do it the right way. We’re going to get the guys to play hard and have a lot of fun, and like I said, the main important thing is to get these seniors out in the right direction,” Whitley said.
He said deciding to accept the position wasn’t too tough.
“You know, Georgia Southern is a special place to me. You know, I’ve been here, spent a lot of my life here, a lot of lifelong relationships, so the decision was not hard. It’s not hard, it’s making sure our guys were in a good position,” Whitley said.
Whitley said like the team, he too has mixed emotions about Lunsford’s firing, but they have to continue to push forward and play out the rest of the season.
“Coach Lunsford recruited me, so we’re all in the same boat there. I mean, I have a lot of respect for Coach Lunsford. He’s the reason I’m here, he gave me an opportunity, and I’ve tried to support him and make the best of the opportunity he’s given me, so I think all of us are in the same boat there. All of us have very strong feelings about him, but right now, just like we just mentioned that, you know, when adversity hits, you’ve got to find a way to step up and get it done, so that’s what we’re going to try to do. I met with the staff, I met with the players, I met with support staff, and I’ll continue to do that the rest of the day, and make sure we’re all on the same page,” Whitley said.
Before joining the staff at Southern, Whitley spent 18 seasons as a high school head coach in Georgia, most notably at Stockbridge High where he compiled a record of 160 and 55 - winning seven region championships.
Because of that, he says he’s seen how important recruiting relationships are from both sides. So Sunday night he called all the recruits and touched base and will continue to recruit so that Georgia Southern has a successful early signing period in December.
With a 1-3 start to the year and a video circulating online of senior nose tackle Gavin Adcock on top of a moving bus, drinking what appears to be a beer pre-game Saturday, Benko said it all factored into the decision.
Adcock has been suspended indefinitely. He has apologized for his actions in the video on Twitter.
“Every day is an evaluation. Every day has a sense of urgency to it. Coaches and staff, and so what I share with you is everything up to the decision was factored in,” Benko said.
Benko said Lunsford was informed Sunday, then he met with Whitley to ask him to take over. He then met with staff and players.
Benko said his focus this week is to assemble a search committee and they’ll decide if they want to hire a search firm to find the Eagles next permanent head coach.
“We’re not settling. I’ll do anything I can related to fundraising and getting the things needed to get the coach in here that we need. This is a big hire and we’re going to turn over every stone possible,” Benko said.
Benko added he’s already received some interest in the opening, but it is “highly unlikely they make a hire in the regular season.”
The team does not practice on Mondays, but they resume preparation Tuesday to host Arkansas State on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Both Benko and Whitley expressed they hope Eagle Nation comes out to support the student-athletes.
You can watch a replay of the news conference below:
Copyright 2021 WTOC. All rights reserved.