STATESBORO, Ga. (WSAV) – Yes, the viral video played a role. No, it wasn’t the only reason.
Athletic director Jared Benko said he made the decision to let go of head coach Chad Lunsford in consideration of his whole body of work, which spans from Nov. 27, 2017 until yesterday.
“Everything is part of the decision-making process,” Benko said. “I share with our coaches and our staff all the time that every day is an evaluation. Every day has a sense of urgency to it, coaches and staff. Everything up to the time of the decision was factored in.”
Benko said he’d seen the widely-circulated social media video of senior nose tackle Gavin Adcock drinking beer on top of a moving school bus as Georgia Southern rode to Paulson Stadium prior to its conference opener against Louisiana.
While not directly responsible for Lunsford’s firing, the video certainly did not help matters.
“What was shown on that video, it’s not acceptable,” Benko said. “It’s being handled and we’re not going to have that issue again. I think it’s safe to say that my thoughts were consistent with others.'”
“I want to reach out and express my deepest apology for my foolish actions on the bus this past Saturday,” Adcock said in an apology he posted on Twitter. “What I did was very selfish and is not what we are about here at Georgia Southern.”
Adcock has been suspended indefinitely while his case moves through the disciplinary process.
Benko also cited Georgia Southern’s 1-3 start to the 2021 campaign as a reason to let Lunsford go.
“When you make these decisions, you look through the lens of what’s in the best, long-term interests of the program. We have a strong vision for Georgia Southern football and we’re not meeting it. Our current performance does not match our vision of comprehensive excellence.”
Both current and former players took the news with little joy; many of them were recruited by Lunsford in high school and had grown close with him over the years.
When Benko addressed the team on Sunday night to tell them the news, he expected them to feel some anger about the decision.
“You have a coach, a mentor, a role model that gets removed from their position, I told them it’s OK to be hurt and it’s OK to have a range of emotions. That’s normal, that’s human.”
Soon after firing Lunsford, Benko made the decision to promote cornerbacks coach Kevin Whitley to the interim head coaching position.
Whitley, a former Georgia Southern player from 1988 to 1991, has been on the Eagles’ staff for three seasons. Prior to that, he was a coach for 10 seasons at Stockbridge High School outside of Atlanta, where he went 99-28 with five region titles.
Partly because of that high school experience, Whitley made the retention of Georgia Southern’s future recruiting classes a top priority.
“The first thing I did last night was I called all the commits, so I already talked to them and assured their families of where they stand with our program,” Whitley said. “I’ve been on the phone today talking to uncommitted guys. So recruiting won’t stop.”
The team practiced on Sunday night, but did not take the field on Monday. Whitley now faces the tall task of getting the team refocused and ready to play Sun Belt foe Arkansas State in just five days’ time. He says he wants to keep the team’s routine as close to normal as possible.
“Anytime you take on something in the middle of the season, you can’t just scratch it. We have a good plan, we’re going to execute the plan, we’re going to get guys to play hard and we’re going to have a lot of fun doing it,” Whitley said.