By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
ARKANSAS NEWS BUREAU
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hired his ninth assistant Tuesday night, announcing former Razorback Barry Lunney Jr. as tight ends coach.
But Lunney’s addition won’t complete Bielema’s first Arkansas staff. That’s because wide receivers coach George McDonald resigned to "pursue other career opportunities," according to Bielema. He is expected to land at Syracuse as the program’s offensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.
The news added up to a busy day on the coaching front for Bielema and the Razorbacks. McDonald spent roughly one month at Arkansas after leaving his previous position at Miami in December. Lunney Jr., meanwhile, moves back into college coaching after spending eight years working for his father — Barry Lunney Sr. — as the offensive coordinator at Bentonville High.
"In the world of college football there have been numerous examples of high school coaches joining a college coaching staff and making an immediate impact," Bielema said in a news release Tuesday. "Barry has experienced success through his seven years as a college coach and at the highest levels in high school. He understands the demands of being a college coach, and the championship teams he helped lead at Bentonville High School routinely produced one of the state’s top offenses."
Lunney Jr. helped Bentonville High win two state championships during his tenure and reached the title game four times. Bentonville High also won at least 12 games in four of the past five seasons with Lunney Jr. on staff.
He worked in college football for seven years before joining his father at Bentonville High. It included stints as the co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at San Jose State from 2003-04 and an offensive assistant at Tulsa from 2000-02. Lunney’s coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Arkansas in 1998-99.
Lunney played for the Razorbacks from 1992-95 and held the school’s career passing record when his career ended. He was a captain for the 1995 team, which was the first to reach the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
Lunney joins an offensive staff that includes coordinator Jim Chaney, offensive line coach Sam Pittman and running backs coach Joel Thomas. But Bielema now must look for another receivers coach after McDonald’s expected move to Syracuse.
Syracuse has not announced McDonald’s addition, but the move would make sense. McDonald worked with new Syracuse coach Scott Shafer at Western Michigan from 2005-06. He was the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Western Michigan, while Shafer — who has replaced Doug Marrone with the Orange — worked as defensive coordinator on former coach Bill Cubit’s staff.
"When you set out to assemble one of the top coaching staffs in the country, the group will consist of individuals who are highly respected and highly sought after," Bielema said in a statement Tuesday night. "I have always tried to hire coaches who possess the qualities and ambition to move up in our profession. I wish George the best of luck in the future as an offensive coordinator at a major university."
McDonald had agreed to terms with Arkansas that paid him $275,000 annually through June 30, 2014. His Arkansas deal also included a $50,000 prorated buyout, which McDonald will have to pay after terminating his employment agreement.
McDonald is regarded as an impressive developer at the wide receiver position, tutoring current NFL players like Greg Jennings and Eric Decker during his college coaching career. Rivals.com also rated McDonald as one of the nation’s top 25 recruiters in 2012 because of his work with the Hurricanes last year.
It’s not immediately known where Bielema will turn to replace him. But Lunney’s addition does mean Bielema’s staff will include a former Razorback once again after Tim Horton recently left for a position at Auburn earlier this month.
"He attended Razorback games starting at a very early age and generations of his family have been a part of building the tradition at Arkansas," Bielema said Tuesday.
"He was a captain who led this program to its first SEC Western Division title and he will be a tremendous bridge to fill the gap between this coaching staff and all of our former letterwinners, high school coaches in Arkansas and the entire state."