Lunney Talks Special Teams Coaching

by Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – About every head football coach asserts a special emphasis on special teams. However, until recently, special teams weren’t coaching titled as something special. Offenses and defenses always had coordinators in charge answering to the head coach, sometimes also coordinating the offense or the defense himself. Special teams generally got divvied among assistants but nobody named a coordinator.

Barry Lunney Jr. became Arkansas’ first designated special teams coordinator last season. That special teams coordinator title was added to coaching tight ends which Lunney had coached at Arkansas since 2013.  Coaching tight ends still came first last season as Lunney shared overseeing special teams with analyst Daniel Da Prato. 

Arkansas 2-10 2019 season’s last two games saw Head Coach Chad Morris fired and Lunney, now the Texas-San Antonio offensive coordinator,  finishing as interim head coach.

Sam Pittman, Arkansas’ 2013-2015 offensive line coach coaching Georgia’s offensive line 2016-2019, returns to the Razorbacks as head coach. He returns bringing with him Georgia’s special emphasis on special teams.

Scott Fountain, under Georgia Coach Kirby Smart, was the Georgia special teams coordinator coaching just special teams and nothing else in 2019. Now, Fountain is Arkansas’ special teams coordinator coaching nothing but Razorbacks special teams. “I look at it as there are three phases in the game and you need three coordinators to coach the phases,” Pittman said. “So when you decide what you are going to do with your offense, have a leader of that group. Same way with defense same way with special teams.” 

Fountain has the same charge coordinating the special teams and those  assisting him as defensive coordinator Barry Odom has with the defense and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles does with the offense. “Scott Fountain in my opinion is excellent as a special teams coordinator and that’s what he does,” Pittman said. “If you are going to preach to your team that there are three phases and special teams is just as important as the other two, I think it shows when you hire a special teams coordinator and that’s what he does.”

A high school coach from 1988-1993, Fountain started his college career variously coaching offensive line, and tight ends combined with the usual pieces of  coaching special teams before designated the tight ends/special teams coach from 2013-2016 at Auburn. He coached strictly special teams in 2018 at Mississippi State and returned last year as special teams coordinator at Georgia, where he’d once been a special teams analyst.

Fountain’s special teams Georgia impact last season included Rodrigo Blankenship winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s best place-kicker and Georgia in the SEC leading  in punt return yards (366) and punt return average and tied for first in punt return touchdowns. “It definitely gives you more times to focus on that,” Fountain said. “At Auburn several years back I did special teams and H-backs. I’ve been a part of staffs where it (coordinating special teams) was split up among two guys and four guys. I just don’t think there’s the attention to detail that you’d like to have with that.” 

To have one coach especially in charge, “it’s really important,” Fountain said. Since most practices start with special teams, the kickers and snappers basically work the remainder of practices on their own on a different field while the position coach/special teams coach stays with the offense or defense. “The biggest thing I try to sell to the specialists that we’re recruiting is when we’re in a special teams meeting that’s what everyone is dedicated to,” Fountain said. “I can tell a kicker or a long-snapper I’m going to be coaching you and helping you get better just like a coach does with a back or O-lineman or anyone else.”

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