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Matt LaFleur tabs ex-Rams assistant Joe Barry as Packers’ new defensive coordinator
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Matt LaFleur tabs ex-Rams assistant Joe Barry as Packers’ new defensive coordinator

Packers 23, Lions 20

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur walks on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur is going with one of his former coaching colleagues for the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator job: Joe Barry.

An NFL source confirmed Saturday evening that the Packers coach had decided to hire Barry, who will be a defensive coordinator for the third time in his NFL coaching career. ESPN.com was first to report Barry had been offered the job.

LaFleur and Barry first crossed paths with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, when LaFleur was the offensive coordinator under coach Sean McVay and Barry was the team’s assistant head coach and linebackers coach.

LaFleur offered the job to Barry shortly after University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard turned the Packers down Friday night.

The 50-year-old Barry inherits a defense that finished ninth in the 32-team NFL in total defense (334 yards per game) and tied for 13th in scoring defense (23.1 points per game) in 2020 under Mike Pettine, who was not retained after his contract expired following the season-ending 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 24.

The Packers did not officially announce Barry’s hiring because his deal had not been finalized.

Barry spent four seasons with the Rams before leaving last month to join the Los Angeles Chargers after Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley was hired as the Chargers’ new head coach. Barry was set to serve as the Chargers’ linebackers coach and defensive passing-game coordinator under Staley. The Rams hired former Atlanta Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris to replace Staley as defensive coordinator.

The Rams had the NFL’s No. 1 defense in 2020, leading the league in both scoring defense (18.5 points per game) and total defense (281.9 yards per game) before the Packers’ 32-18 victory in the NFC divisional playoffs.

According to ESPN.com, Barry was one of at least nine candidates who interviewed for the job, along with Leonhard, Packers defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, Cleveland Browns defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, New Orleans Saints defensive line coach/assistant head coach Ryan Nielson, Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach/defensive run-game coordinator Matt Burke, Washington Football Team defensive backs coach Chris Harris, Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero and Falcons senior assistant Bob Sutton.

Sports Illustrated reported Harris was the runner-up to Barry after Leonhard turned the job down.

Barry’s previous two stints as a defensive coordinator did not yield statistical success, though its reasonable to wonder how much of that was a function of the lack of talent on those teams as compared to the effectiveness of Barry’s scheme.

Barry’s first coordinator job was in 2007 and 2008 with the Detroit Lions, where his defenses finished 32nd — dead last in the NFL — in total defense and scoring both seasons under coach Rod Marinelli. The 2008 Lions team went 0-16. Barry had coached the Buccaneers’ linebackers from 2001 through 2006 before Marinelli hired him in Detroit.

Barry went back to coaching linebackers for the Buccaneers (2009), then coached linebackers at the University of Southern California (2010) and the San Diego Chargers (2011 through ’14) before serving as Washington’s defensive coordinator under Jay Gruden in 2015 and 2016.

Barry’s 2015 defense finished 28th in total defense and 17th in scoring defense as Washington won the NFC East at 9-7 before losing an NFC wild card playoff game at home to the Packers. His 2016 defense finished 28th again in total defense and 19th in scoring defense. Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith was on those Washington teams under Barry.

Asked to describe his defensive philosophy when he arrived in Washington in 2015, Barry replied: “I'm very hands-on, I'm very enthusiastic. But I think that's obviously my style and the way I coach. That's also… I'm kind of that way in the hallways during the day at work. That's just who I am. I'm very hands-on.

“We're going to have the ability to be multiple and jump in and out of 4-3 fronts, 3-4 fronts. We're structurally based out of a 3-4, there's no doubt about it. It's kind of the trendy word to say 'hybrid' these days — but I wouldn't go that far. But we are very multiple. We're going to give you a bunch of different looks when we are in our base group and when we are in our sub groups.”


Who’s next? From Jim Leonhard to Wade Phillips to copying Bucs, Matt LaFleur has options for Packers' next defensive coordinator

Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.

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