New Rams assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Barry is no stranger to Southern California. Barry spent his formative years in Los Angeles, playing linebacker at USC in the early 90s, then returning to USC as the program's linebackers coach in 2010.
Barry's history should make for a special reunion when he walks into the Coliseum as a Rams coach for the first time.
"I played at SC and I coached at SC, so to now go back and be able to coach for two years with the Rams, I can't wait," Barry said last Friday. "Little shoutout to the Trojans — the last time I was actually in that stadium, we beat UCLA 50-0. So I'm excited to be back in there."
Barry comes over from Washington, where he spent the last two seasons as the club's defensive coordinator. He said he had a few choices of jobs this offseason, but picked the Rams in large part because of his strong relationship with head coach Sean McVay.
"We worked together the last two years — he was the offensive coordinator, I was the defensive coordinator — so we got to be very close, worked hand in hand," Barry said, adding he wasn't surprised McVay received a head coaching job despite his age. " I knew as soon as he went on these interviews, he was going to get a head job, just because I know what type of guy he is, I know how passionate he is, how smart he is. So, no, it did not shock me one bit."
Barry also cited working with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips as a factor that brought him to L.A.
"To have a chance to work with [McVay], to have a chance to work with Wade Phillips — I pinch myself, I really do," Barry said. "And to be back in Southern California with the Los Angeles Rams, it doesn't get any better than that."
While coaches are still early in their evaluation process, Barry said he's been impressed with the Rams' defensive effort from last season.
"Defensively, I know I'm very excited watching these guys. Going back and having watched 16 games, these guys play hard. They love football. You can tell they're totally into it," Barry said. "And for a starting point, that's great. Now, we've got to implement coach Phillips' system. But that's what OTAs are for, that's what minicamp is for, that's what training camp is for."
With the Rams switching from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4, there will be some clear adjustments from a linebackers standpoint. Despite Los Angeles' heavy reliance on nickel packages in 2016 — often leaving Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron as the Rams' only linebackers on the field — Phillips said he's not concerned about the relative inexperience in the rest of the room.
"I've been in this situation before. We've always come up with something. I don't foresee a problem," Phillips said. "We have some linebackers, some of them haven't played much, but they look like they're good players."
Of the linebackers currently on the Rams' roster, Barry said he's been particularly impressed with Ogletree and Barron.
"Obviously, NFL coaches watch all the film every single week so you get to follow these guys' careers," Barry said. "And when Sean brought me on here, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I get 52 and 26?' So they're great guys, obviously great players. But everything that I'm hearing, they're great leaders, they love the game, they love to prepare, they love to practice."
Given the stipulations of the latest collective bargaining agreement, coaches cannot do much but have friendly conversations with players until the offseason program begins. But from the few times Barry has talked with Ogletree, he's sensed the middle linebacker's desire to be great.
"I coached Derrick Brooks in Tampa Bay for eight years — and that was something that Derek was just — it fueled him, it fired him to be the very best every single day he walked in the building," Barry said. "Alec and I have already had that conversation. And the great thing is, he wants that. He wants to be the best linebacker.
"He doesn't just want to be a good linebacker in this league, he wants to be elite. He wants to be the best," Barry continued. "So when a player has that passion and that desire, that's fun to coach."
Between Barry and Phillips, the Rams have plenty of coaching experience to build their defense heading into 2017. And Barry is as eager as anyone to get the process going.
"I'm so excited to be here," Barry said. "So excited to be with Sean. So excited to be with coach Phillips. And I can't wait to get back in the Coliseum — I can't wait for our players to get back in the building in April. I'm chomping at the bit."