Back The Mindset of Chad Lunsford

Back To Sun Belt

The Mindset of Chad Lunsford

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin.  Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page

Simplicity has been a big part of Chad Lunsford's vision, with clear expectations and goals.

Those guys have bought in from day one and they've done everything that we've asked. I think we are growing as a team, I think we are maturing as a team.
~Chad Lunsford

The tone of Georgia Southern's off-season has been energetic and upbeat. Ahead of an upcoming schedule that features a road trip to Clemson, fresh off three straight College Football Playoff appearances, and Sun Belt powers Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy all coming to Statesboro, Chad Lunsford, now the Eagles' head coach after serving in an interim role, has Georgia Southern moving with a purpose. This off-season has been one where optimism has met opportunity.  

Progress in the spring and summer started the season before. Under Lunsford's leadership, Georgia Southern won two of its final three outings, winning consecutive conference games against South Alabama and Louisiana by a combined total of 62 points. A historic 52-0 victory over the Jaguars may have been a turning point in a year where the Eagles had previously lost their way. Finishing 2-1 came with some late validation for Georgia Southern and, ultimately, a full-time role for Lunsford.

With fall camp rapidly approaching on August 4th, anticipation is only building

"Since January, all I've thought about is football season," Lunsford nodded on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "It's really, really close, it just causes a lot of excitement and we are all fired up to get this thing started."

That head of steam was on full display at Sun Belt Media Day in New Orleans. Lunsford was joined by running back Wesley Fields and safety Joshua Moon at the annual pre-season kickoff event. There was a shared persistence between the three, along with an overwhelming eagerness to return Georgia Southern to prominence. The Eagles have a somewhat reconfigured look, but a tried and true way of doing things. Steps forward are taken with conviction.

A focus on the fundamentals has been a major priority for Georgia Southern under Lunsford. That theme, more than one of transition, has defined the last few months. By, in some ways, going back to the basics, the plan is that Eagles will go back to their winning ways. Late last fall included, Lunsford has been consistent with his message. 

"You can talk about X's and O's, scheme and all of the different things with winning a game, but, when it comes down to it, we have to make sure we are sound in our scheme and working within our scheme, but also know that the culture, the team bond and the brotherhood goes along with being a good team," he shared. "From day one, the standard has been holding each other accountable, not just being a coach-led team, but also being a player-led team and that everyone has bought in and going in the same direction."

Lunsford is rebuilding Georgia Southern from the inside out, with, at times, more of an emphasis on framework than actual football. Throughout his tenure, Lunsford has talked about being "process-driven" above all of the various evaluations. In terms of implementing his vision, the Eagles have responded.

"Those guys have bought in from day one and they've done everything that we've asked. I think we are growing as a team, I think we are maturing as a team," Lunsford acknowledged. "We have been deliberately slow in moving forward with our schemes and anything that's with X's and O's because it was more about building the foundation, building the culture and making sure that they understood what the standards were and not letting up on that."

Simplicity has been a big part of Lunsford's vision, with clear expectations and goals. That mantra will also manifest itself in gameday preparations as Georgia Southern will look to be more aggressive and responsive on both sides of the football. With returning experience on the roster, the hope is that the Eagles will be, as a group, comfortable and intuitive, opening the door for more consistent success. Georgia Southern is working towards a fluid, free-flowing brand.

Previously the recruiting coordinator for the Eagles before taking over as head coach, Lunsford has long brought top talent to town; the plan is now to let those talented playmakers make plays. There is a dynamic ripple effect that comes with that style and approach.   

"I firmly believe when you keep things simple, guys can go out there, turn it loose and play fast. When you've got them out there overthinking, it really slows them down and they're out there playing like robots instead of young men," Lunsford detailed. "The other piece to that is when you keep it simple and there is adversity, they can pick it right back up and just move onto the next play. That is something that we've talked a lot about, because there was a lot of adversity last year that we didn't respond to. The key is making sure that when bad things happen, we go make good things happen afterwards."

There are plenty of reasons to expect a Georgia Southern resurgence and trends are pointing in that direction. The outline is in place, the leadership core is strong and there is proven production back all over the field. Six Eagles, most notably end Logan Hunt and cornerback Monquavion Brinson, were recently named to the official pre-season All-Sun Belt teams. Georgia Southern gets four of its first five games at home, meaning the Eagles will have a chance to develop some early traction in their own backyard.

That said, there is still a lot to prove, a notion Lunsford clearly understands. League coaches just picked Georgia Southern to finish fourth out of five teams in the Sun Belt Eastern Division. Outside opinions aren't influencing the internal mindset, however; the Eagles are focused on their own methods and means.  

"We aren't paying any attention to that," Lunsford added. "You know, we were a 2-10 football team last year and I'm shocked we were even placed fourth in the Eastern Division. We're just worried about South Carolina State, September 1st."

Fall camp, for Georgia Southern, awaits. With Lunsford and staff looking on, the practice fields are where both real predictions and real progress can be made. 

Spring football was about acclimation, cohesion and synergy. Those fixtures still very much in place, the Eagles can now move forward with their mission. August is more than just a precursor to the start of the season for Georgia Southern, it's a statement and a springboard alike. There is a chance to make a change here and the Eagles, going all of the way back to year one, have always made the most of their opportunities.

"I'm looking forward to watching those guys get out there and play like their hair is on fire. That is what Georgia Southern has been known for," Lunsford smiled. "We're not always the most talented football team, we aren't always the most diverse offense or most diverse defense, but we keep things simple around here. We play fast and that's what I expect. I'm excited to see our guys, when that ball gets snapped, playing all the way through the whistle and finishing football games."

When Lunsford made the rounds at Sun Belt Media Day on Monday, he did so on the birthday of the late, great Erk Russell. The head coach at Georgia Southern from 1982-1989, Russell started the football program in Statesboro and famously set the expectations the program is now known for far and wide. Russell's story is directly intertwined with that of the Eagles. His name is on the athletic complex, his bust watches over the field and his legacy, literally and figuratively, whips in the wind.

Representing Georgia Southern at the podium in New Orleans, Lunsford echoed many of the sentiments Russell did a generation before.   

As Lunsford leads the Eagles forward, he does with a special reverence and appreciation for the program's past.

"The story of Georgia Southern is so epic, there is no other story like that out in college football. The start, with humble beginnings, coach Russell was obviously the perfect fit for this. When he came in, Georgia Southern had nothing. He was able to build an unbelievable program and win national championships very early on," Lunsford concluded. "Obviously, we want to make sure that we celebrate him. It's very important to me that, as we go along with our football program, we embrace our traditions, we embrace our history and our guys understand where Georgia Southern football came from."

The starting point in Statesboro is the line of scrimmage; looking around Paulson Stadium, the flags of the finish line are easy to see.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports