Packers Hire Ex-Rams Assistant as New Defensive Coordinator

Joe Barry Packers DC

Getty Cory Littleton #58 of the Los Angeles Rams runs through a drill with Linebackers coach Joe Barry during practice for Super Bowl LIII at the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility on February 1, 2019 in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

The Green Bay Packers have found the next leader of their defense.

According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is planning to hire Joe Barry as his new defensive coordinator, luring him away from his post with the Los Angeles Chargers less than a month after he accepted the job.

Barry will replace Mike Pettine, who the Packers opted not to retain for the 2021 season when his three-year contract expired this offseason. Green Bay’s defense finished ninth in total yards (334 yards per game) and tied for 13th in points allowed (23.1 ppg).

Based on multiple reports, Barry was LaFleur’s second choice for the role after previously offering the job to Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator. Leonhard, however, decided to remain with the Badgers and turned down the job on Friday, leading LaFleur to choose another candidate with more than 20 years of NFL coaching experience.

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How Does Barry’s Resume Look?

Barry spent the past four seasons as the right-hand man for Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, serving as his assistant head coach and linebackers coach. During that time, he helped turn Cory Littleton from an undrafted rookie into a Pro Bowl starter for the Rams defense, but he was passed over multiple times for a defensive coordinator promotion.

Barry finally opted to move on when Brandon Staley — the Rams’ 2020 defensive coordinator — was hired as the Chargers’ new head coach in January. He was set to join the Chargers as a defensive pass game coordinator and linebackers coach but now will be headed to Green Bay for a true promotion.

Barry and LaFleur worked together on McVay’s staff during the 2018 season while LaFleur was the Rams’ offensive coordinator. Barry also comes with prior experience as a defensive coordinator with a stint in Detroit (2007-08) and Washington (2015-16), but none of his units ever finished better than the league’s No. 17 scoring defense or higher than 21st in DVOA.

How Will Packers Operate Under Barry?

Barry doesn’t figure to bring radical changes to the way the Packers did things the past three seasons under Mike Pettine. He ran a 3-4 scheme in Washington and is coming off of four more years of (mostly) the same under McVay. He is also inheriting a better defensive unit than he has had before with Packers starters such as Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage among the best.

Can Barry take those pieces and succeed where Pettine could not, though? His background in linebackers does bode well for the development of Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin in their second NFL seasons, but he will face several other challenges before the 2021 season begins, including determining who the Packers’ No. 2 cornerback will be.

There is also the looming fact that Barry was passed over not once but twice for promotion on McVay’s staff in both 2020 and 2021. Perhaps McVay simply wanted a fresh face — Raheem Morris from Atlanta — as his top defensive assistant, but it doesn’t speak well of a new hire if his former boss got four years of firsthand experience and still decided against promoting him.

Time will only tell if Barry can get the job done, but it’s not for nothing that LaFleur landed on him — second choice or otherwise — after speaking with at least eight other candidates.

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