Though just 30, Joe Barry already considers himself a 'lifer' in the NFL coaching arena
Joe Barry's interview with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lasted an entire day, and it wasn't about fancy resumes, canned questions or awkward lunches.
It was about chalk.
Head Coach Tony Dungy looks for one thing above all else in his assistants: the ability to teach. And this is not something the Bucs are willing to take on reputation. If you're planning to interview for Tampa Bay's coaching staff, then be prepared to stand at the chalkboard and teach, for hours if necessary.
That's what Barry learned on a recent January afternoon at One Buccaneer Place. A candidate for the team's linebackers coach position, which opened up when Lovie Smith was hired as the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator, Barry suddenly found himself the teacher of two very bright pupils for the balance of the day.
"I tell you what – it was impressive to go through the interview with Coach Dungy and Coach (Monte) Kiffin," said Barry. "It was as thorough of an interview as I've ever been through or ever seen. Monte took me out on the field for two hours and had me teach him the drills that I will be teaching our linebackers. Then we came in and, between sessions with Monte and Coach Dungy, I spent five more hours on the board."
Obviously, Barry's Xs and Os were in the right place that afternoon, as he was introduced as the Bucs' new linebackers coach on February 8. The former San Francisco quality control coach spoke briefly with the media on that day, as did fellow coaching hires Jim Caldwell (quarterbacks) and Mike Tomlin (defensive backs). On Wednesday, Buccaneers.com sat down for the first extended Q&A with Coach Barry, covering his interview, his coaching style, the competition at linebacker and more.
In your opinion, what prompted the Buccaneers to choose you as the new linebackers coach?
"I think with me and with everybody on the staff, there's kind of a theme that runs through this place. We're all teachers, and I think that's big with Coach Dungy. That's what people don't understand. Being a coach is being a teacher. You're teaching the game of football. I think that's what Coach Dungy saw in me; he saw that I have the ability to teach. Then you also have to see if the guy has the ability to learn what you're doing. When you come in as a new coach, you first have to learn the system, but that doesn't matter if you can't make sure the players get it."
That being said, how did you convince Coach Dungy that you were indeed strong in that area?
"That's really what my whole interview consisted of. Coach Dungy and Monte Kiffin sat me down, put me at the chalkboard and said, 'I want you to teach this to me.' I was able to portray to them that I am able to teach, and I'm sure that's the number one thing that they saw in me. Then, also, you have to be able to get along with people. You have to be able to relate to not only your co-workers but obviously the players that you coach. But the number one thing is the ability to teach. That should be huge with every head coach, but it definitely is huge with Coach Dungy.
"They said, 'Why don't you coach us up on the defense?' Monte said, 'Tony and I are sitting in here and we're rookie linebackers. Take us through the base front and coverage that the 49ers run.' And I stood up there and I coached and I taught them our base front-coverage. It was impressive to go through that. You could see why Tony and Monte have been successful at what they do. They're great minds and all that, but they're great teachers themselves. It was awesome. It was nerve-wracking, of course, but they made it fun and it was very, very thorough."
Considering the veteran nature of the Bucs' linebacking crew and the success it has already had in this system, is it really that important to be a good instructor?
"Well, I think it's definitely to my advantage that I can come in and work with a group of veterans, the Derrick Brookses and Shelton Quarleses and Jamie Duncans. That makes it nice, but also there are also guys like Nate Webster, who's only going to be a second-year player.
"I'm a firm believer that, whether you're a rookie or a 10-year vet, you always need to go back and refine your tools. I'm going to be teaching these guys not only the philosophy of our defensive package but also the philosophy of linebacker play. You can always go back and re-teach and re-work on things, just the basic skills that a linebacker needs in order to play in the NFL. It's great for me that I'm taking over a group that has been coached as well as you possibly can by Lovie Smith. I'm lucky enough in that aspect. I've just got to keep it going and keep finding ways to improve upon what Lovie's done."
You've previously worked with Coach Smith and the rest of the Bucs' defensive staff at several Buccaneer training camps. Now you're picking up where Smith left off. Have you spoken to your new players yet about that transition?
"I've talked to Derrick, I've talked to Jamie, I've talked to Shelton, I've talked to Nate – I've pretty much talked to all of them. We really haven't got much into philosophy yet. We just sat down and I let them know how excited I was about being here.
"When a new coach comes in, the transition that the players have to go through is usually hard because it involves change. A new coach comes in and it's new terminology, out on the practice field it's new drills. What's fortunate for the linebackers here is that, over the last five years, I've really gotten to know Lovie. I have really kind of catered my philosophy of linebacker play and also my coaching style to what Lovie did. It's almost like I'm a disciple of Lovie Smith and the way he taught linebackers. Now, they're going to have to get to know me; I'm a completely different personality. But, as far as just the structure and philosophy of linebacker play, I'm right from the mold of Lovie. So I think it's going to be a pretty easy transition for those guys, in terms of on the field football stuff. The personality stuff, that will all be gained in time."
The Buccaneers would appear to have more starting-caliber linebackers than positions available. Do you envision an intense battle for playing time in training camp?
"At any level of football, any time that you have competition within the group, I think that's good. The great ones will always motivate themselves, but I think any time that you have competition, any time you have that guy backing you up and he's right on your heels, that's a good situation.
And any time you have the luxury of having not only one great player at a position but two great players, it's good because that starter knows that, 'I better be on my game because if I'm not, the guy behind me can play.' Also, If you're unfortunate enough to have an injury, you always have a guy that can step right in. We have three linebacker positions and six guys that can play. It's two over one."
On the flip side, how do you manage the expectations of the players that do not gain the majority of the playing time?
"I simply tell them – and this is the philosophy that I carry in everything in life – just worry about the things that you can control. If you have Player A and Player B and they're fighting for one position, just worry about what you can control. What that is, what they can control, is getting up every day, working their tails off in the classroom and the practice room and the weight room, working hard in the offseason. All that other stuff will iron itself out. When guys get in trouble is when they worry about the things that they can't control. The things a player can't control are how much playing time he has, if he's going to be the starter, if he's going to be the backup. Don't worry about that. Just worry about the things that you can control – working hard, competing, busting your tail. All of the other things will work out."
In addition to your work with the Bucs' staff, you spent one year with the 49ers and you coached linebackers at UNLV and Northern Arizona. How would you describe the coaching style that you've developed?
"I would say enthusiastic. I would say I'm not obnoxiously enthusiastic. I get excited with the good. I do get upset with the bad, but I think that a lot of times when you get too upset with the bad, it might portray you as being negative. I never want to be negative, so I try to control myself when something bad happens. Even on bad plays, you can always find a positive about something. Enthusiastic, positive – I think those are two good words you could use for me as a coach. At least, that's what I try to be."
At 30 years old, you're fairly young on the NFL coaching scale, and just getting started in the league. Do you consider yourself a 'lifer', someone who will still be coaching 10, 20, 30 years down the road?
"Definitely. You can't get to this level if this is just a hobby or something. There's not a moment that goes by during the day that I'm not thinking about football. To get to the level that I'm at, I think you have to be like that. It's all I know. I'm the son of a coach. My wife's the daughter of a coach. It's all I think about. There's obviously other things in my life that are important, but football is very, very important. I love it. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I'm fortunate enough that, when my playing days were over, I was able to stay close to it by coaching."
What else in life excites you the way coaching does?
"My family. My wife and daughter. My wife is pregnant right now with our second child. I don't think there's really anything else that I like besides family and football. I'm content just having those two things in my life."