After years of seeing Joe Barry donning the pewter and red for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the team’s linebackers coach, it is a bit odd seeing the Detroit’s new defensive coordinator wearing blue, silver and black at the Senior Bowl. But there he was leading a contingency of Lions coaches and scouts around the Senior Bowl practices while his father-in-law, Rod Marinelli, the Lions’ head coach, recuperates from hip replacement surgery at home.
Life is good for Barry these days. He has the defensive coordinator job he’s been after for a year now, his good friend and former coaching colleague, Mike Tomlin, was named as Pittsburgh’s head coach on Sunday, and two of the men he respects the most in the NFL – Chicago head coach Lovie Smith and Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy are in the Super Bowl next week.
“We always refer to all of us who worked for Tony as ‘The Tree,’” Barry said. “Tony is kind of the trunk and we are all the branches. Me and Rod and Mike the last couple of days, we’ve talked about how it’s been a very good couple of weeks for ‘The Tree.’ I got my coordinator job, Tony and Lovie are going to play for a Super Bowl. Mike T. got a head-coaching job. It’s been a special time for us.”
Dungy and Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin hired Barry and Tomlin in 2001 with Barry replacing Smith, who had taken the job as St. Louis’ defensive coordinator. Barry and Tomlin became close friends and despite Tomlin’s departure last January to become Minnesota’s defensive coordinator, the two have remained in constant contact. The first person Tomlin called on Sunday night to reveal that he was offered the Steelers coaching job was Barry.
“I talked to him that night,” Barry said. “We’ve been talking to each other through out this whole thing a couple of times per day. It’s a great example of a guy taking advantage of an opportunity. A lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, he’s just going in for an interview.’ Mike didn’t take that approach. He went in there and went full bore and said that he was going to get one of those gigs – whether it was Miami or Pittsburgh. All of us that know Mike know how impressive he is. I was bummed out for him when things didn’t work out in Miami, but he kept grinding away and pushing for this Pittsburgh thing. He called me right after the Indy game concluded. We were jacked for Tony and Lovie, but then he said, ‘Can you believe I’m the freaking head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I believe it.’ We both knew that we wanted to be head coaches, but we didn’t realize it would happen this fast. I have goals and aspirations myself, but I’m focused on turning this thing around up in Detroit.”
Despite some hard feelings towards general manager Bruce Allen from a year ago when Allen denied Barry the opportunity to interview for the Lions defensive coordinator position, Barry says he harbors no ill will against Allen and left the Bucs on great terms.
“I’m over what happened last year,” Barry said. “I finally had to realize that I signed a contract with the Buccaneers and I had to live up to that contract, even with a year left on it. [On January 2] Bruce called me and wanted to see me in his office. I told him that we had just lost the Seattle game and it was a rough year and that I had to take someone to the airport and asked if I could do it the next day and he said that was fine. Bruce was great. So I went in to see him and Bruce said that Rod had let [defensive coordinator] Donnie [Henderson] go and requested permission to interview me. I had a great visit with Bruce. Bruce could have – by letter of the rule – played around with me because technically my contract wasn’t up until the end of January. But he was great.
“Over the last three years, we’ve had our differences, but Bruce has prepped me for not only being a coordinator but also for being a head coach. I want to thank him for that. He’s really tutored me in the little things, the subtle things such as league rules and the salary cap. All the other things that a head coach or a coordinator has to worry about outside of the X’s and O’s, such as pass interference rules. Bruce is really on things like the salary cap and the NFL rulebook. We always had fun conversations like that over the last couple of years. But he was great and wished me luck.”
Barry then recalled how quickly the wheels were in motion for his departure from Tampa and his arrival in Detroit.
“This was Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Right when I get done talking to Bruce, Rod calls me and says, ‘Okay, I’ve got you on an 11:00 a.m. flight.’ I told Rod, ‘Coach, it’s 9:45 a.m. and I’m in a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and flip-flops – and you want me on a flight at 11:00 a.m. to bring me in for an interview?’ He also wanted me to bring a suit for the introductory press conference. I told him I can’t do it. He said, ‘How about 1:15 p.m.?’ Oh, great. He’s giving me an extra hour-and-half or so. Thanks! So I raced home, packed, grabbed a suit, grabbed my interview book and got on a plane and headed to Detroit. I spent the afternoon hanging out with Rod and Matt Millen. I accepted the job and my agent worked out the contract and we had a press conference on Wednesday. It was lightning fast, but that’s how it happens.”
On his way out the door, Allen probed Barry on who he thinks would make a great replacement as Tampa Bay’s linebackers coach. Barry said to look no further than Bucs defensive quality control coach Casey “Gus” Bradley.
“It was a no-brainer. I mentioned Gus in a meeting I had with Bruce,” Barry said. “The topic of my replacement came up and I shared with Bruce these exact words: ‘You do not need to leave the building to find my replacement. He’s 10 doors down from you.’ Gus Bradley will do an outstanding job. He’s hard working. He’s energetic. The players love him. He worked closely with me this year, so he’s got total familiarity with our package. He and Raheem Morris were both A-plus hires.”
Barry insisted that the situation in Tampa Bay is not as grim as its 4-12 record in 2006 may indicate. He said the Buccaneers are poised for a quick turnaround with the right moves in free agency and the draft, and with Allen and head coach Jon Gruden at the helm.
“Jon and Bruce will get this thing turned around,” Barry said. “I have all the faith in the world that both of those guys will get Tampa turned around. Anytime you are dealing with a struggling team, and you have to put Tampa in that category after going 4-12, you look at one thing. You look at whether or not the players are still buying into the system and the hierarchy, and they still are. The players still believe in Jon and they still work hard and come out every day and bust their ass. I saw that on a daily basis. With that still in place, I think the Bucs will turn it around. Also, the Bucs have four draft picks in the top 60 or so picks, and $25 million under the cap. They have the draft picks, they have the salary cap money. Believe it or not, they’re in a good place right now.”
And with his long-awaited defensive coordinator post, so is Barry.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com