By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I have an affinity for the Wikipedia pages of NFL coaches. The narrative story matters little; the “Career History” table on the right side of the page is the draw (check some out). It is essentially a comprehensive, chronological and bulletized list of the subject’s college and professional football coaching history. It’s fascinating stuff.
You’re processing “…affinity for the Wikipedia pages of NFL coaches” and conclude “Football Nerd”. I can’t deny that diagnosis – my wife often calls the NFL my “other woman” – but give me some leash. Check out this Wiki example:
USC Graduate Assistant (1994-95). Northern Arizona Linebackers Coach (1996-98). UNLV Linebackers Coach (1999). San Francisco 49ers Quality Control Coordinator (2000). Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebackers Coach (2001-06). Detroit Lions Defensive Coordinator (2007-08). Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebackers Coach (2009). USC Linebackers Coach (2010). San Diego Chargers Linebackers Coach (2011-14). Washington Redskins Defensive Coordinator (2015-16).
This is the long, unstable, mostly progressive/occasionally regressive, college and professional football coaching resume of former ‘Skins defensive coordinator Joe Barry. It paints practically every NFL coach’s journey: begin as a glorified intern, work through the ranks, live out of a suitcase for years, succeed, fail, recover, catch a break and, against all odds, make a name for yourself.
Barry, who lasted only two seasons in Washington, was fired after his defense ended a second consecutive season ranked 28th overall. That’s not good, but Washington’s defense, a woefully talent-deficient unit, was a known weakness. And that was before injuries made a mess of the safety position and robbed Barry of Junior Galette, the team’s best pass rusher, for the second consecutive season.
The firing was understandable, though, if not entirely fair. After losing two out of the last three games and blowing multiple opportunities to solidify a playoff spot, a head needed to roll. Barry was an easy, uncontroversial target. But his dismissal won’t cure Washington’s woes.
The reality is New England head coach and defensive guru Bill Belichick couldn’t have coached Washington’s defensive roster into top half of the league. Barry was the classic chef with limited, reduced-for-quick-sale ingredients. The best he could do was make an edible dish.
And he often did. The defense had its moments of incompetence, but it averaged 22 points/game over the last three, and just under 18/game if you subtract the seven points Carolina scored from the one-yard line and the six scored by the Giants defense, both products of ‘Skins offensive turnovers. Again, Washington lost two of those games. Barry’s fault? Hardly.
Barry, like every NFL coach (check out those Wiki resumes for proof), is the product of the marriage between his dedication and acumen and the right circumstances and surrounding talent. Consider Belichick’s journey. He started as a graduate assistant with the Colts and worked for four teams from 1975-1978 before being hired by the Giants in 1979, where he coached a king’s ransom of talent, including Lawrence Taylor, the best defensive player I’ve ever seen. As a head coach, he failed in Cleveland; once his Patriots career ends, he might be the NFL’s all-time greatest coach. What was the difference between Cleveland and New England? Maybe Tom Brady?
Players aren’t any different. Dallas Cowboys rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott was sensational this season. But he’s the equivalent of uber-talented RB Todd Gurley, a player whose statistics Elliott’s dwarfed. The difference? Elliot ran behind the best offensive line in football; Gurley, the poor soul, plays for the moribund Rams.
We all arrive at any point in our lives via some unimaginable journey. We win. We lose. We soldier on. Success, particularly at the highest levels of any craft or personal endeavor, is complicated. It requires considerable effort and resolve, but it’s ultimately beyond an individual’s absolute control.
Success is also predicated on timing, luck, mentorship and surrounding talent, among other factors. In a society increasingly quick to criticize, judge and dismiss, it would be wise to remain mindful of this fact, particularly when considering casting dispersions, and ponder if we are a catalyst or impediment to others’ success.
Not everybody crosses paths with a Lawrence Taylor or Tom Brady. Just ask Joe Barry.
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