Chad Lunsford expected Saturday afternoon’s game at Coastal Carolina to be part of his audition to be the permanent head football coach at Georgia Southern.
The 40-year-old Anderson native was appointed the interim head coach when Tyson Summers was fired six winless games into the season.
Lunsford, who had been the Eagles assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, expressed his desire to have the interim tag removed and it happened Monday afternoon. So he’ll be coaching Saturday as the leader of a college football program for the first time.
He is in his second stint at Georgia Southern. He was an assistant from 2003-05 and returned in 2013 after four years at Auburn as Director of Scouting and Director of Player Personnel, assisting with the day-to-day operations of Auburn football with an emphasis on recruiting, organizing and prospect evaluation.
“I’m very excited about this,” Lunsford said. “Georgia Southern is very special to me. I’ve been here twice. A lot of years spent. I understand the place. I understand what it’s about. I understand what it takes, and I can’t wait to lead this program to do those particular things. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and go to work, blue collar all the way.”
Lunsford received a groundswell of support on social media as interim coach through the hashtag #WeWantLunsford. “It makes me feel like I’ve touched a lot of lives, and any time you can feel that way you know you have a purpose,” Lunsford said.
His popularity with his players was evident Saturday with the celebration in the visitor locker room at Louisiana-Lafayette following the team’s second consecutive win and second win of the season. It began with Lunsford dropping a pro wrestling-style elbow on a folding chair and included him crowd surfing above his players.
The scene may be similar in the visitor locker room at Brooks Stadium if the Eagles (2-9) beat the Chants (2-9).
“I think he’s got them playing hard,” said Coastal interim head coach Jamey Chadwell, who is standing in this season for Joe Moglia during the head coach’s five-month medical sabbatical. “Those players were playing for him to get the job, obviously, you could tell that. Now that he’s got it they’re excited and playing with more passion and emotion. … I hope you’ll see our team play with that type of excitement. We’ll need to because if we don’t, they’re on a high right now and so we need to knock them off of it.”
Georgia Southern won six FCS national championships between 1985 and 2000 before making the jump to FBS in 2014, and the Eagles were impressive in their first two years, winning nine games in both ‘14 and ‘15 under Willie Fritz, who then left to take the head job at Tulane.
Summers went 5-7 last year before starting the season 0-6, and Lunsford, who was a nominee for the 2016 Broyles Award for nation’s top assistant coach, was named interim head coach on Oct. 22 following a 55-20 loss to previously winless Massachusetts.
The Eagles lost their first three games under the 2000 Georgia College graduate, falling 38-16 at Troy, 21-17 against Georgia State and 27-6 at Appalachian State. Georgia Southern waxed South Alabama 52-0 for its first win and won 34-24 at Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. “We’re looking forward to trying to carry that on,” Lunsford said.