CHAMPAIGN — Barry Lunney Jr. admits a little bit of nerves shortly after he first met Bret Bielema.
Which is why he ran a crimson gentle driving with Bielema within the automotive eight years in the past.
“I’m uptight. I’m simply assembly (Bielema) and I’m on the street (in Arkansas),” Lunney mentioned. “Coach mentioned, ‘You’re going to run that crimson gentle.’ And I used to be like, ‘Effectively, it looks like I used to be attempting to there for you, Coach.’”
Evidently, the connection between the 2 has eased since then. A lot in order that Lunney is formally on board as Bielema’s new offensive coordinator at Illinois after beforehand working with him for 5 seasons at Arkansas.
“He was an amazing mentor to me,” Lunney mentioned Wednesday afternoon in his first public feedback since Bielema made the rent official this previous Saturday. “I realized rather a lot throughout my transition from being in school early on, going into highschool for a big time frame, then going again into the faculty sport at my alma mater, no much less.”
The offensive coordinator at Texas San Antonio the previous two seasons, the 47-year-old Lunney is in now in control of a Energy 5 offense for the primary time. However the former Arkansas quarterback is aware of what Bielema desires and Bielema witnessed first-hand what a Lunney offense can seem like. UTSA handed Bielema his first loss at Illinois when the Roadrunners got here into Memorial Stadium final September and left with a 37-30 win.
Bielema noticed the Illini’s offense sputter alongside for many of the fall below Tony Petersen’s steerage, an particularly irritating actuality when in comparison with a resurgent protection below coordinator Ryan Walters. When he determined he wanted to make a change on the finish of a 5-7 marketing campaign, he dialed up Lunney.
“The final two years at UTSA, I’ve seen what he’s been capable of do as an offensive coordinator,” Bielema mentioned. “He took that program to new ranges of success. As I made a decision to make a transition, I started to have a look at totally different coaches, totally different offensive types and totally different applications. I simply saved gravitating again to Coach Lunney at UTSA.”
Roadrunners coach Jeff Traylor even took the time to talk with Bielema about Lunney. From Lunney’s schematic information to his terminology and high-paced, pro-style offense, Bielema thinks it’s a seamless match.
“Any time you might have manufacturing within the throwing sport and the working sport the way in which (UTSA) had and the way in which it ranks nationally, it’s very, very eye-opening,” Bielema mentioned. “But in addition for me, to have familiarity with him on only a sure core perception in how video games are gained.”
“I preserve going again to being balanced,” Bielema added. “The flexibility to make use of a tempo and the power to play to our gamers’ strengths and reduce their weaknesses will drive us.”
Establishing the run comes first — the Roadrunners averaged 183.5 yards per sport final season — in the case of taking part in complementary, bodily soccer, however taking part in the sport on the offense’s phrases and tempo is one other issue.
“My foundational perception is totally consistent with coach Bielema’s perception about physicality,” Lunney mentioned. “It begins with an id of working the soccer, and so, a bodily model of soccer. I believe for those who noticed our soccer workforce play the final couple of years, we hung our hat on that a part of it.”
Can Lunney discover the repair at Illinois, although?
Lunney faces a troublesome job in revitalizing the quarterback place. It’s one thing his predecessors — together with Petersen, Rod Smith and Garrick McGee — have every did not do, with Illinois beginning 11 totally different quarterbacks for the reason that 2016 season.
At UTSA, Lunney developed Frank Harris into a powerful quarterback, and the Roadrunners additionally had a trio of extensive receivers who every had greater than 750 receiving yards.
In the meantime, Honest McCormick rushed for 1,479 yards (No. 7 within the Soccer Bowl Subdivision) and 15 touchdowns in 2021.
In addition to seeing eye-to-eye on scheme and magnificence of play, Bielema views Lunney as an elite trainer, citing his expertise on the high-school stage as a coach and bodily training trainer whereas at Bentonville Excessive College in Arkansas from 2005 to 2012.
“He actually needed to stroll the stroll of being a trainer and an teacher,” Bielema mentioned. “That’s crucial to me. Lots of people can speak. Only a few folks can train. I believe he’s a wonderful trainer, which actually will get me excited.”
Lunney appreciated to label his lessons as Superior Placement Bodily Schooling. Though college students weren’t at all times as enthused concerning the title, Lunney says he realized concerning the other ways during which folks absorb and commit info to reminiscence.
“A visible learner, a kinesthetic learner, an auditory learner,” Lunney mentioned, “that stuff actually form of enlightened me to (understand) I’ve acquired a room full of men right here the place every one — regardless that I could have 5 quarterbacks within the room — there could also be two of them that study by way of visible studying. There’s one which learns by way of listening to and might grasp it. And but, there could also be yet one more that wants a walkthrough to make that come to life. That second in time for me was actually helpful to me.”
In Champaign, Lunney inherits a quarterbacks room of Tommy DeVito and Artwork Sitkowski. DeVito, a Syracuse switch who dedicated to the Illini final month, arrived on the UI campus this week. Sitkowski, who began three video games final season after transferring forward of the 2021 season from Rutgers, is rehabilitating from a damaged arm and an offseason shoulder surgical procedure that doubtless gained’t have him competing in spring practices.
Whereas the Illini lose most of their manufacturing on the offensive line, proficient ability place gamers like working again Chase Brown and extensive receiver Isaiah Williams are anticipated to return.
Because the spring nears, Lunney will look to take advantage of his new unit.
“We’re going to have a unique match and flare right here,” Lunney mentioned. “It’s not going to look precisely prefer it did as a result of, finally, we need to construct this offense round our strengths, like Coach (Bielema) talked about. We’re going to proceed to get know that.”