Joe Barry 'hardened' by past, excited for future as new Packers defensive coordinator

Longtime NFL assistant vows to demand “relentless effort” from Green Bay’s defense

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Defensive coordinator Joe Barry

GREEN BAY – In the first of his two decades as an NFL assistant coach, Joe Barry sat everywhere from the penthouse to the outhouse.

During just his third season in the NFL, he won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay. Then six years later, he lost every game one season in Detroit.

Since then, the highs and lows have predictably continued to come and go, and the new Packers defensive coordinator won't hesitate to say he's a better coach due more to the rough times than the sublime ones.

"I'm really proud of my scars," Barry said Tuesday in his first media session since coming to Green Bay. "I really am. I think in life, you're hardened by tough experiences. When true growth takes place, I think it's when things are really, really hard.

"I would hope the 36-, 37-year-old Joe Barry is a lot different than the 50-year-old Joe Barry. But I'm just as excited as heck."

A linebackers coach for a large portion of his career, Barry battled through difficulties in his two previous stints as a defensive coordinator – with Detroit (2007-08) and Washington (2015-16). At both stops, statistically his defenses ranked toward the league's bottom.

That didn't deter Head Coach Matt LaFleur, after conducting a thorough search process that featured interviews with nine candidates. The contact with Barry included two Zoom sessions lasting 5-6 hours each and another handful of phone calls that Barry estimated consumed another three hours.

In the end, LaFleur was won over by Barry's communication skills and his knowledge and passion for the game, as well as his association with former coordinator (and new Chargers head coach) Brandon Staley's Rams defense, which was the top unit in the league last year. LaFleur mentioned how difficult it was to prepare to face that defense in last season's playoffs.

LaFleur saw all of Barry's personality traits first-hand when the two were on the Rams' staff together in 2017, a year before Barry coached in his second Super Bowl, this time as an assistant head coach as well as a linebackers coach.

"I know the energy that he brings and I think he's learned a lot from those previous experiences," LaFleur said of Barry's low points as a coordinator. "I don't think he'd ever hide from those. The bottom line is we are going to get judged on what we do moving forward, and not from our past experiences. We've got to perform."

LaFleur and Barry are confident the defense will do so in Green Bay, where Barry already has better personnel at his disposal than he ever had in Washington or Detroit.

Second-team 2020 All-Pro selections Za'Darius Smith at edge rusher and Jaire Alexander at cornerback provide two linchpins at key positions, along with 2019 Pro Bowler Kenny Clark in the middle of the defensive line.

Add to them a veteran signal caller for the back end (Adrian Amos) and recent first-round draft picks at edge rusher (Rashan Gary) and safety (Darnell Savage), and Barry is fired up about the unit he's inheriting, which finished ninth in yards and 13th in points allowed last season.

There's a level of uncertainty with multiple starters, due to contract situations and the salary cap, that will be sorted out soon. But as Barry continues to study film to learn his returning personnel, he knows this opportunity is different than his previous chances to run a defense.

"The foundation has been set here," he said. "We're going to put our stamp on it. You're going to have to wait and see what that stamp is going to be, but I'm really looking forward to it."

Barry's schematic background spans everything from the Tony Dungy/Monte Kiffin "Tampa 2" defense to the Vic Fangio/Wade Phillips/Staley versions of the 3-4.

Neither Barry nor LaFleur shared any scheme specifics, other than the Packers' base 3-4 remaining in place with multiple variations stemming from it.

They didn't make it sound as though there would be any wholesale changes the players would have to adjust to, but LaFleur suggested the philosophy or approach situationally will differ.

"I think it really comes down to getting your roster defined and trying to put those guys in the right situations," LaFleur said. "Certainly every game plan will have a little different flavor to it.

"There will be a lot of consistency, especially on early downs … and then we'll spice it up on third down."

LaFleur called Barry "a pretty excitable guy," and it's a given he wants his defense as a whole to play with the same emotion Barry will bring to the job.

That's Barry's goal, too, and while defensive coaches never let a discussion get too far away from the fundamentals of beating blocks, tackling, and generating turnovers, Barry emphasized some intangibles are a necessary part of the equation as well.

"Defensive football, bottom line … it's about playing with, not effort, but relentless effort," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're 4-3, if you're 3-4, if you're Tony Dungy, if you're Vic Fangio. It doesn't matter.

"We're going to play fast and furious."

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