Packers pick Joe Barry to succeed Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
San Diego Chargers linebackers coach Joe Barry during the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur knew it was no guarantee that he would get Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard to be his defensive coordinator, so he kept a couple of former associates in his back pocket.

In the end, he played it safe and picked the one with the most experience.

Joe Barry, who spent the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, including 2017 when LaFleur was there, will be the Packers’ next defensive coordinator, a source said Saturday. LaFleur had narrowed his choices to Barry, Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero and a third candidate, which NFL.com identified as Washington defensive backs coach Chris Harris.

ESPN.com was first to report the news of Barry's hire on Twitter.

Barry will replace Mike Pettine, whose contract expired after three years with the Packers and was not rehired.

Leonhard turned down LaFleur's offer to lead his defense Friday night and throughout the day Saturday, sources said that the Packers coach was leaning toward Barry. He eventually told the other candidates that they were not the choice and news of the Barry hiring started to leak out late Saturday afternoon

Barry, 50, has had stints as defensive coordinator with Detroit (2007-08) and Washington ('15-16), but has spent 15 of his 20 years in the NFL as a linebackers coach. None of the four defenses he led as a coordinator ranked higher than 28th in yards allowed or 19th in scoring.

Barry had been assistant head coach/linebackers for Rams coach Sean McVay all four seasons McVay has been in charge, but left for the Los Angeles Chargers after the season.

Barry left to join Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who after directing the NFL's top-ranked defense, left to become head coach of the Chargers. Though Barry's background is mostly with the Tony Dungy/Monte Kiffin "Tampa-2" system, he spent last season running Staley's scheme.

LaFleur was able to hire him without the permission of Staley and the Chargers because it was a promotion to coordinator.

"His position group always produced and were gap sound," an an NFL offensive assistant coach who has faced Barry's teams. "Everyone you talk to says he works his ass off and is loyal to his players and his staff."

The Staley system is the same as what longtime defensive coordinator and now Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio runs. It is a system that LaFleur and McVay, two close friends and architects of the Rams' offensive system, value highly.

McVay thinks so highly of the system that he hired Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris, a disciple of the "Tampa-2" system, as defensive coordinator when Staley left to become Chargers head coach, but is not changing the system.

There are a number of questions about LaFleur's decision to hire Barry, who was passed over twice by McVay for the Rams coordinator's job and was also passed over by the Las Vegas Raiders last month for their open coordinatorjob.

Instead of picking someone who is up-and-coming and has not been a coordinator before like Evero or New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielson, who was also interviewed, LaFleur went for what some NFL observers consider a "retread."

There isn't a lot of difference in the career paths between Pettine and Barry and Pettine has a much better track record as a coordinator. 

And if LaFleur wanted to hire someone experienced whom he could trust, he could have promoted secondary coach Jerry Gray, who has had two reasonably successful stints as as a coordinator in his career. Gray, who joined the team last year, has a reputation for running an aggressive scheme, has an excellent reputation with the players and would have been able to build on some of the good things the Pettine defense did in 2020.

It's likely that Barry would run a 3-4 system that would allow the Packers to use the personnel they already have in-house. LaFleur would probably want him to incorporate some of Staley's coverage philosophies, which include lots of combination zones and pre-snap disguises.

A fundamental part of the Fangio-Staley system is making life difficult on quarterbacks by making it look like they are playing one coverage when they are actually playing something else. In the Packers' victory over the Rams in the NFC playoffs, Staley played Cover-2 on one side and quarters on the other, which quarterback Aaron Rodgers said created quite a challenge.

The Tampa-2 system that Barry learned under Kiffin during his early years with the Buccaneers uses a four-man front and keeps both safeties back quite a bit. It requires linebackers who can take deep drops in pass coverage, cover sideline to sideline and rally to the ball.

"That's what he runs," an NFL play-caller said. "Joe's history is the Dungy (scheme)."

Barry's previous experiences as a coordinator were not pretty.

In his first coordinator's stint with the Lions, Barry's defense ranked 32nd in yards allowed and scoring in 2007 and 32nd in '08. The Lions went 0-16 in '08 under head coach Rod Marinelli, who was fired after the season.

"We were so bad and dysfunctional everywhere it’s hard to say," a member of the Lions front office in '08 said of the job Barry did there. "I didn’t think he was great as a coach, but he was running Marinelli's defense. We were a mess 

With Washington, Barry's defense ranked 28th in yards both seasons and 17th in scoring in '15 and 19th in '16.

Early in his career, he was part of a Tampa Bay defense that ranked in the top 10 six of the seven years ('01-06) he was linebackers coach. In four seasons in San Diego as a position coach ('11-14), the Chargers' defenses ranked 22nd, 16th, 11th and 13th.

Another longtime NFL offensive assistant coach said he thought Barry was an excellent linebackers coach, but that he was never blown away by how he called games as a coordinator. However, he has been part of some good defenses during his long career, including the Rams' No. 1-ranked unit this season.

LaFleur's top two options, Barry and Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero, were both logical choices for the Packers head coach. Evero had never been a coordinator at the NFL level and is 10 years younger than Barry, so his ability to call games was in question.

Besides a direct coaching connection with LaFleur, Evero had connections with both the Packers and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Evero was a quality control assistant for the Packers in 2016 before joining McVay as safeties coach. He also played with Hackett at California-Davis for two seasons and coached with him in Tampa Bay for a season.

A source on the Packers staff when Evero was there said Evero impressed everyone with his work ethic and personality and would fit in well on LaFleur’s staff.