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Show Him the Money

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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For what could prove to be arguably the greatest one-year turnaround in college football's nearly 150 year history, Eagle Nation can thank Chad Lunsford.

With a bowl victory next month, Georgia Southern would join the 2010 Miami (OH) Redhawks as the only teams in college football history to post double digit losses in one season and double digit wins in the very next.

For what could prove to be arguably the greatest one-year turnaround in the sport’s nearly 150 year history, Eagle Nation can, first and foremost, thank the efforts of one Chad Lunsford.

It’s worth noting, too, that Georgia Southern failed to win a single game last season, prior to Lunsford taking over as the interim. One can only speculate as to how bad things could have finished under the previous regime.

It’s hard to pinpoint any singular difference between Lunsford and his team, relative to the preceding iteration, because literally everything is better.

From his personal off-field demeanor -- dropping bows, making the fraternity house rounds, player surfing, etc. -- to the on-field product, the changes have been sweeping, comprehensive, and the results speak for themselves.

One of the most important improvements has been along the offensive line, where Lunsford, in concert with Ron Hudson, who he brought in, has overseen a jump from 96th in standard down line yard per carry to 34th and a remarkable 13.4% increase in percentage of 5+ yard carries.

Wesley Fields is more dynamic at the second level, averaging an extra 1.7 more yards per opportunity than he did a year ago, and he’s getting more opportunities because of the aforementioned O-line growth.

Behind center, Shai Werts has improved as both a runner and a thrower, up 1.5 yards per carry, 2.7 yards per pass attempt, and nearly 50 passer rating points.

Werts’ development, coupled with the emergence of Wesley Kennedy, has also produced an enhanced passing game, little used as it may be. On a fairly comparable sample size, Georgia Southern ranks 35th in passing S&P+ with the 4th most explosive air attack in the game. Comparatively, it was second to last in the nation just 12 short months ago and 77th in IsoPPP.

Altogether, the offense, headed by another Lunsford hire, Bob DeBesse, has leapt 75 spots in the S&P+ rankings. Seventy. Five.

Yet another one of Lunsford’s appointments, Scot Sloan, has worked with the head coach to create one of the nastiest defenses in the Sun Belt.

Formerly the defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator at App State, Sloan has worked his magic in Statesboro. Monquavion Brinson was already a stud, but Kindle Vildor has now joined him among the ranks of the top cornerbacks in the league. The duo now rivals that of the Mountaineers, themselves, and leads a secondary that ranks in the top 25 in havoc rate -- passes defensed, forced fumbles, and tackles for loss per play.

The dominance has trickled down to the front seven, as well. From 124th in run defense S&P+, Georgia Southern is up to 49th.

They’re even a little better on special teams, somehow. Already one of the best teams in the FBS in the third phase of the game, unsurprisingly, given that Lunsford was the special teams coordinator prior to taking his current position, the 2017 unit ranked 21st in combined S&P+. Up to 17th in 2018, there is truly no facet of this team that hasn’t taken strides under his leadership.

Fresh off of inking the the second best recruiting class in the conference according to the 247Sports composite, last February, even after the nightmare year that was, Lunsford clearly has an eye for talent both on the field and the sidelines.

Georgia Southern through and through, this is a man that embodies the ideals of the program in every way, shape, and form. There’s no other option for Sun Belt Coach of the Year. If it’s not his in a walk, it’s a joke.

Now, it’s simply a matter of not screwing it up. The administration is only a few years removed from botching the Willie Fritz situation. Unsure of his job security, Fritz was forced to make a move for the sake of his family and livelihood, despite not necessarily even wanting to leave the program. The same program that, under Fritz, enjoyed almost unprecedented success for a team making the move from the FCS to the FBS. Then they botched it and Tyson Summers happened.

Chad Lunsford, above all else, is the reason for what could prove to be the biggest U-turn that this sport has ever seen. The future in Statesboro is as bright as it has ever been. However, eventually, with a young, energetic, winning head coach, come outside suitors.

There’s no doubt that Lunsford wants to be a part of this program, to be a part of its return to championship glory. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that that they don’t need to give him a reason to stay.

His salary is 102nd in the FBS, and sixth in the Sun Belt. His buyout is the lowest in America. It would take almost nothing for someone to swoop in and take this man that is on the brink of history.

Maybe that was sufficient before he had proven himself as a head coach, but that time has passed. If Georgia Southern wants to continue to play at a championship caliber level, they have to pay at a championship caliber level. Neal Brown, Scott Satterfield, and Blake Anderson don’t do what they do for nothing. Lunsford won’t either.

He may have brought the Eagles back into the light in record time, but that doesn’t mean things can’t get dark again. Next time, a Chad Lunsford might not be there to fix it. They don’t have to, though. They got cheap last time and it came back to bite them, but this time can be different.

What Chad Lunsford has done for Georgia Southern might be the most incomprehensibly impressive turnaround ever. It’s time to return the favor.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP