Although the Packers stunned the Cowboys in the wild-card round and nearly left San Francisco victorious six days later, they are still following through with a change that was rumored near the end of the regular season. They will have a new defensive coordinator next season.
Joe Barry is out, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero. Barry lasted three seasons as Green Bay’s DC, but his unit struggled down the stretch. Barry’s contract ran past this season, per The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman, making this a true firing.
This marked Barry’s third opportunity running a defense. Like predecessor Mike Pettine, the bevy of former first-round picks present on this unit did not result in the return on investment the Packers have sought. The team’s defensive issues late in the regular season nearly prevented this playoff run from coming to pass. While Matt LaFleur said Tuesday he was not ready to make a call on Barry, the five-year Green Bay HC has done so early Wednesday morning.
After allowing Tommy DeVito extensive success on the ground, the Packers allowed the Giants’ rookie third-stringer to mount a game-winning drive in Week 14. Six days later, Baker Mayfield carved up the Green Bay defense to post the first perfect passer rating by a Lambeau Field visiting quarterback. Week 16 brought a shootout with a Panthers team that went 2-15; Carolina put up 30 points in that game. After that outing, Barry’s ouster was assumed. It appears the Packers’ strong finish could not offset these concerning late-season showings.
Overall, the Pack ranked 10th in scoring defense and 17th in yards allowed. The No. 10 mark represents a seven-spot improvement from 2022. DVOA was much less kind to Barry’s unit, placing it 27th this season. The metric graded Barry’s first-rounder-laden group 25th in 2022 as well. We heard last summer Barry entered a make-or-break year, and while the defense hounded Dak Prescott (garbage-time yards notwithstanding) and flustered Brock Purdy in a game the No. 1-seeded 49ers nearly blew, the former Detroit and Washington DC will need to look elsewhere to continue his career in 2024.
The Packers continue to use first-round picks on defense. With the exception of Jordan Love in 2020, Derek Sherrod (2011) stands as the most recent Green Bay first-rounder on offense. For much of Aaron Rodgers‘ starter run and Love’s first year as a first-stringer, the defense has not looked like a unit flooded with first-rounders. But seven homegrown Round 1 picks (Kenny Clark, Devonte Wyatt, Lukas Van Ness, Quay Walker, Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, Darnell Savage) were in place this season. All but Savage are under contract for 2024.
Barry, 53, managed to garner a second chance despite being Rod Marinelli‘s DC on the 0-16 2008 Lions team, serving as Washington’s DC from 2015-16. Both Barry Washington units finished 28th in total defense, but as many coaches have, the veteran assistant elevated his stock on Sean McVay‘s staff. Barry’s four-year run as Rams linebackers coach (2017-20) boosted his value, leading to the Green Bay opportunity.
As for who could be next, SI.com’s Albert Breer indicates Titans pass-game coordinator Chris Harris impressed during his interview for the DC post in 2021. Harris is back on the DC radar, with the Titans firing Mike Vrabel. Ejiro Evero also worked with LaFleur in Los Angeles. Evero was believed to be a finalist for the Green Bay gig in 2021.
The Panthers, however, have long held interest in pairing Evero with their next HC. The first-year Carolina DC also has a second HC interview scheduled with the team. Jim Leonhard was believed to be LaFleur’s first choice for the job in 2021, per ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky, but the former NFL safety stayed at the University of Wisconsin. Leonhard finished last season at Illinois as a senior football analyst.
Barry’s replacement will naturally enter a high-pressure situation, with Love ascending during this season’s second half to create expectations for the 2024 team.