Over the past couple decades, whenever the CU men's basketball team would come off a blowout loss, you'd hear someone say, "They should fire the men's coach and let Ceal Barry coach the team."
Sometimes it was said in jest, sometimes people were serious. It was a testament to Barry's abilities. Seventeen winning seasons in 22 go-arounds at the Coors Events Center will earn you that reputation.
Thing is, the players on the CU men's teams through the years couldn't have taken Barry's style. She was too tough, too demanding, too much of a perfectionist. Few men I know could have withstood her relentless attention to the details of basketball.
Anyone who ever witnessed one of her practices knows what I mean. Barry would stop any practice any time and use any moment to teach fundamental basketball. Then she would follow it up with an impatient bark, ‘Let's go!'
She ran her team on the basis of principals. Barry liked having good shooters on her squad, but players that dove after loose balls, took a charge and hustled back on defense won her heart.
For Barry, helpside defense was a metaphor for putting someone else's needs before your own. Making the extra pass was a metaphor for putting the group's goals ahead of the individual's.
Teamwork on the court was a metaphor for teamwork off the court. And, in Barry's way of working, personal responsibility on the court translated to the same away from basketball.
All but three four-year players Barry coached graduated, and Barry has coached 82 Academic All-Conference student-athletes.
"This was never all about me." Barry said at an emotional press conference on Thursday. "We accomplished things as a team."
No teams accomplished more in the history of the Big Eight Conference than those coached by Barry.
In Barry's 13 seasons coaching CU in the former conference, she was 184-96 when leading the Buffs against Big Eight foes. Barry won more regular-season games (118), league titles (4), tournament titles (4), coach of the year honors (4) and coached more newcomers of the year (4) than any other Big Eight coach, while tying for the most NCAA Tournament appearances with seven.
One of Barry's most impressive accomplishes, however, was rebuilding a Colorado Big 12 team that lost four key players to transfer following the 1998-99 season.
Using a core group of players who were freshmen that year, Barry coached the Buffaloes back to the NCAA Tournament in March 2001. The next season, CU made it all the way to the Elite Eight, before losing to Oklahoma.
In all, Barry coached 13 NCAA Tournament teams. Including four seasons at Cincinatti before taking over at Colorado, Barry has amassed 509 wins to 282 losses (.643 percent) in 26 seasons through Thursday.
But the past three months have worn on Barry. Her Colorado team is in the midst of a program-worst losing skid, having dropped 10-consecutive games. With two games remaining, the 2004-05 squad is 8-17 overall, 1-13 in conference play. The Buffs suffered their worst defeat of the season Wednesday night at Texas.
"We don't deserve to ever walk off the floor losing to Texas the way we lost last night (83-40 in Austin)," Barry said. "It pains me to look in the eyes of my players and still see them uphold and stand with pride with 'Colorado' on their jerseys."
Barry has said often in recent years that she doesn't enjoy the recruiting part of a head coach's job. Nine players have left the CU program for various reasons since 1999. Some critics — of which Barry has had few — began wondering in recent seasons if her Old School perfectionist ways were no longer effective with today's athletes.
Most of all, the losing her team has suffered this season pushed her to her decision to retire.
"Change will be good," Barry said.
Interim Athletic Director Jack Lengyel on Thursday named Barry assistant athletic director for student services at CU. She'll be involved, along with Karen Morrison, in the search for her replacement.
Look for longtime Barry assistant Jen Warden to receive strong consideration for the job. Warden was Barry's best recruiter for several seasons, and two years ago took the head coaching job at Boise State.
Whoever replaces Barry will be replacing one of the best Buffs ever.