Q&A with Micheal Barrow

Micheal Barrow is a former All-American and assistant coach at the University of Miami. He resigned back in August and a lot of people have wondered the full story behind it. Mike Bakas sat down with Barrow to talk about that, his time at Miami, his philosophies as a coach and recruiter, his future plans, and much more. You don't want to miss this!

Bakas: Before we get into football stuff, tell me about Micheal Barrow the person.
Barrow: Since I became Christian in 1997, I’ve always tried to live my life for an audience of one, which is Jesus. Every decision I make is based on my six F’s -- faith & fellowship, family & close friends, fitness & health, football, finance & investment, and fun. Any time I have to make a major decision, it’s based on those six things. My goal is to live a balanced life as well as I can. These things are very important to me and I’m very passionate about every one.

You played 13 years in the NFL and then immediately got into coaching. How did that happen?
What happened was I just tore my quad tendon and had surgery in Miami in December of 2005. The doctors told me it would take about eight months of rehab. As a result of being limited in my offseason training, I had so much extra time on my hands. I then reached to my former high school football coach, Bobby McCray, and I asked if he needed any help. I would go to physical therapy in the morning and then go to Homestead High School in the afternoon.

Coaching at Homestead was amazing. When I do something, I don’t know how to do it half way. I poured my heart into it. I was doing a number of different things -- I was driving kids home after practice, I would take kids to hang out at my house, I was going to Wal Mart and buying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for kids who were hungry, and I just fell in love with the kids and with coaching. Plus, my family was involved. My wife was helping out with the cheerleaders. Coaching was great and Coach McCray let me call plays on offense and defense.

I caught what most coaches call the coaching bug. My rehab started becoming less and less important to me and I started spending all my waking hours focusing on coaching. I eventually stopped going to rehab and really dedicated all my time to coaching. After the season, I sat down with my wife and told her how much I love coaching but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay at the high school level because I thought I may be a better fit at the college or NFL level. So we prayed about it that night and the next day, and God is my witness, Randy Shannon called me and talked to me about coaching linebackers at Miami. I couldn’t believe it. I thought this was crazy but it was God opening up a door. What’s funny is that all my years of playing in the NFL, I would always ask myself what I would do when I was finished playing and I would come up blank. However, It just so happened that when I volunteered my time helping my old high school coach and those kids, I found my true calling.

You started coaching at Miami in 2007 and you coached five linebackers who got drafted in the NFL from Miami – Tavares Gooden, Spencer Adkins, Darryl Sharpton, Colin McCarthy, and Sean Spence. It’ll be six after Denzel Perryman gets drafted in April. What do you attribute that to?
My first goal on the job was to build a relationship with my players. I wanted our relationship to be similar to a boxer and his corner man. I wanted to get to know the players so well that I knew which buttons to push to get them performing at their best. Whether it was practice or a game, I was responsible for my guys being ready to play. I would have them over to my house. I would do things that let them know I care about them. I told them that we can be as close as you want to be. We can be big brother/little brother, father/son, uncle/nephew, whatever it took to build the relationship the right way. I wasn’t going to restrict our relationship in any way.

This is at the core of my coaching beliefs -- kids don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. Even though I had played 13 years in the NFL, went to Miami, became an All-American, won championships, blah, blah, blah, that didn’t mean anything to them if they didn’t know I cared about them. Those first few months on the job, we were just growing together. I remember Spencer Adkins telling me that he felt like I was out there on the field with him. It’s like I was still playing through them. I challenged all of them to be their best. I told them my style could change for them, but my high standards for them would never change. I told them I will do whatever it takes to get the most out of them. It was my job to make sure those guys performed at a high level.

One guy who really challenged my philosophy was T-Good (Tavares Gooden). He looked like Superman but whenever he got tired, he played like Clark Kent and didn’t know how to push through it. Fatigue was his kryptonite. He really taught me a lot and helped me grow as a coach. I had to figure out a way to reach him. One day, I made a highlight tape of all the things I wanted him to change. We met in the office late one night and I showed him that highlight tape and I said this is what you do well and then this is what you do bad. He expressed, how no one, had ever did anything like that for him before. I was able to challenge him. I told him I need him to play like Superman. I figured out what he needed. I was so happy that he had a breakout season in 2007 and got drafted in the third round. It wasn’t just him. The following year Spencer Adkins was a backup. He was the only player to get drafted that year from our team and he was a backup! At the end of the day, I am holding myself to one standard and that was whether those guys reached their potential under my watch. Not everyone will be a first rounder. The challenge was to get the most out of every player from scholarships players to walk-ons. If you sat in my room, I was going to coach you hard. Anyway, to have Spencer and all the kids you mentioned play well, it meant a lot to me.

You were known as one of the top young recruiters in all of college football – not just in South Florida but all around the country. You landed the nation’s No. 1 recruit one year out of Big 12 country (Arthur Brown). You flipped Ramon Buchanan from Florida when he was living in Gator Country. You pulled quality players out of the heart of SEC country (Raphael Kirby and Juwon Young). The list goes on and on. How were you able to accomplish that?
So you want me to share my ancient Chinese secret? Ha..ha.. The best advice I got was when I recruited Arthur Brown out of Kansas. His mentor told me something that really stuck with me. He said the best advice I can give you is just to be yourself. Just be yourself. It all made sense to me. That is the biggest thing. Be yourself and be honest with everyone you deal with and you’ll get the results you want. I looked at it like dating – just be open and honest. I wasn’t trying to lie to anyone, I always put everything on the table. It’s the same philosophy I have as a coach in terms of developing relationships. When you go to recruit a kid, the number one thing you have to do is establish a real relationship -- not just with the players but with everyone else that’s important to him. It all goes back to being yourself. As a parent, they want to know whether they can trust me with their child. As a parent, I don’t let my kids just go to anyone’s house. With recruiting, it’s no different. These football players are all big, strong and everyone wants them to play on their team but those players are still someone’s else child, someone else’s baby. Arthur Brown was someone’s baby. Raphael Kirby was someone’s baby. Also, my Christian values were very important to a lot of people.

From five years as a player at Miami to 13 years as a player in the NFL and then to seven years as a coach at Miami, you’ve been fortunate to have been exposed to so many different coaching styles, philosophies, personalities, and more. Talk about that.
You’re right. I’ve been very fortunate since I’ve been in this business, not just as a coach but as a player as well. I had an opportunity to be exposed to a lot of different coaching styles and philosophies. I’ve seen a lot of good ones. Being drafted by the Oilers and being a Buddy Ryan guy to Jeff Fischer and Gregg Williams to Dom Capers to Vic Fangio to John Fox to Bill Parcells and Mike Zimmerman to then being at Miami and being exposed to all the different coordinators that we had there. I have learned a lot in the past 20 years.

To be around all those different styles and different personalities really helped me develop as a coach. I learned that I couldn’t go into staff meetings saying well such and such Coach did it this way. I had to first learn what they wanted to, do before I immediately start making suggestions. The majority of people like chicken, but they like it prepared different ways – some like it fried, some like it baked, some like it BBQ. As a player, I knew how Buddy Ryan wanted his chicken cooked, but another coach may want it different. It’s no different when you go into a restaurant; the waiter is there to take your order. They can give you suggestions but at the end of the day, if you want steak and the waiter likes veal, the waiter better bring my steak and bring it exactly how I want it. Likewise, my job as a coach is to find out what my boss wants and to give it to him exactly how he wants it. All different types of defensive philosophies have won and all different personalities have won.

You spent seven years coaching at Miami and then resigned over the summer. Explain why you left Miami.
Here is what happened. Right before training camp would start every year Coach Golden would give us a few weeks off. The last week of my vacation, I went to visit my mom in Georgia. She was temporarily living with my brother at the time. My mom got ill earlier in the year and her condition had gotten worse. Last time I saw my mom before that was in May and I couldn’t believe in that short period of time how quickly her health deteriorated. My wife and I looked at each other and we both knew that we were better qualified financially to take care of my mom and we had better access to the medical assistance that she needs. After that trip, we immediately made the decision to move my mom in with us permanently.

My thought went something like this; I said first of all, I can’t continue to coach and dump my mom on my wife like that. It would be unfair and besides it’s my mom not hers. Also, we just had a breast feeding baby boy in January that needed my wife's full attention and on top of that she was homeschooling our three other kids. Second, I thought to myself I can always get another job but I can’t get another mom. It’s funny how God prepares you for different moments. I remember talking with different people over the past years and they use to share with me about their regrets over losing their parents. It seemed like a lot of them had regrets, even though they felt like they did the best they could. Now, faced with the same issue, I realized that God blessed me financially for a time like this. I had no legitimate excuses or reasons why I couldn’t do it. Besides, if the situation were reversed, my mom would do it for me. Growing up, I was a bona fide mama’s boy. There's no conspiracy theory or riddle to figure out on why I resigned. It's simple. Like I told you earlier, I live my life, based on my six F's and faith & family carries more weight than football. People who know me know that this isn't some catchy slogan or empty philosophy: I do my best to practice what I preach. I love God, I love my family, and I love football, in that order. Based on my beliefs, the decision to leave my job, was a no brainer. As a family, we prayed about it, and God confirmed it. I resigned from my job at Miami.

Why did you not just take a leave of absence and then come back during the season?
The reason is because I didn’t know how long it would take to get my mom the proper help that she would need and I didn’t want to take a leave of absence and hold UM hostage and have them pay me while waiting on me to return. That’s not right. Based on my mom’s health condition, it could have taken one month to six months setting her up the proper medical team and care. UM needed a full time Mike Barrow, not a part time Mike Barrow.

Coach Golden and the coaching staff were very supportive and understanding. I had a great working relationship with Al (Golden) and Mark (D’Onofrio) and both were willing to work with me. However, I knew based on the demands of my job and the unexpected demands of taking care of my mom, there was no way for me to do both.

You said it was a no brainer of a decision to resign and make taking care of your mother your top priority. Still, it had to be extremely difficult to leave your job at Miami. Talk about that.
It was difficult to leave because of the relationships that I built with the people in the building from coaches, football staff, academics staff, trainers, cleaning crew and everybody in the Hecht. Also, leaving the players that I coached like Denzel (Perryman), (Raphael) Kirby and the other linebackers, plus guys that I help recruit to Miami and establish a relationship with like Chad Thomas, Darrion Owens and the others was tough. Having those types of relationships made it really tough to leave. However, what solidified everything is that I knew that I had to take care of my family and ministry begins at home. Although, it still was tough not being able to finish what I started from trying to win the sixth national championships to not being able to coach my linebackers. In addition, Denzel came back for his senior season and I wasn’t there for it. I have known him since he was a freshman in high school. He calls me his God dad. That part was really hard on me as well.

How is your mother doing now?
We have prayed so hard. She has gotten so much better. God is faithful and her health has stabilized. However, she’s not at the point where she can live on her own though and she still needs long term health care.

However, I thank God every day for allowing me to take time off work to take care of my mom. I am truly blessed. Rick, in the UM Alumni office, gave me a children’s book, entitled “I Love You Forever”. It’s a must read for anybody that is taking care of an elderly love one. I read it and started crying. It helped re-affirmed that I made the right decision.

There have been reports that have linked your name with some other jobs lately, including one at Auburn earlier this month. Talk about that.
Yes, I went up to Auburn for an interview. I saw why they’re one of the top programs in college football. From a football standpoint, it had a lot of positives. You have two of the top minds in college football with Gus (Malzahn) on offense and Will (Muschamp) on defense. Also, Dameyune Craig, a former teammate of mine with the Carolina Panthers, is on that staff. They’re putting together an all-star staff, like The Avengers or Xmen. Also, I love how Gus has done a tremendous job of surrounding himself with a great support staff with guys like David Gunn and Jamie Croley. I’m very grateful that I had an opportunity to interview there and to meet some great people in this business.

A lot of people have been wondering – why not return to Miami?
First of all, UM doesn’t have any openings. Second, I resigned. By doing that, it created a full-time position on the staff, which gave Ice Harris a chance to become a full-time college coach. Also, it allowed Hurlie Brown a chance to move back to coaching on defense. I was so happy Coach Golden made those decisions. Every time I see Ice now, I tell him I’m so happy for him and his family. I know how much he brings to the table and how much he brings to that program.

It sounds like you’re excited and ready to start coaching again somewhere.
Yes, I would love to continue my coaching career. Coaching is my ministry. Jesus has called me to make a positive impact on the lives of these young players. I know a lot of people in this coaching profession and there are a handful of programs – both in college and in the NFL – who run the work schedule that would allow me the flexibility needed to be a coach, father, husband and son. In addition, these coaching jobs in college and the NFL are very hard to come by so I’m very fortunate that Jesus has blessed me to be in a position where I can take care of my mom and wait on the right situation. In the meantime, as far as my next move goes, I’m just going to continue leading my family, learning as a coach, and trust God will open the right door for me soon.

TAVARES GOODEN

On his relationship with Barrow:
it was tremendous. Me and him had a brother relationship. He kept me motivated like no one else at that University could. I wanted to transfer out and then Micheal got there. I didn’t really get along with Coach Shannon. We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. He couldn’t reach me. He played a lot of mind games. Mike is a personal. He isn't trying to play mind games. He came to me like a man and changed my whole life around.

On Barrow’s immediate impact on him:
When Mike first got there he asked me what would it take to get me to how I was in high school. No one ever asked me that and I was a redshirt senior. No one ever asked what makes Tavares happy on the field. I told him in high school they called me Superman. I high jumped 6-8, threw the discus 200 feet, I ran track, played football, basketball, and baseball. I told him still want it. He wants me to be Superman for him. I came back that last season and I gave it a shot. He did everything he could. He’s a great person, and that’s why he makes a great coach. When you talk about personality, that’s what he’s all about. That’s how every coach should be. Coach Barrow showed me true love, true family as a football coach that I never had before. He made T-Good be T-Good.

On Barrow getting him to play through being tired:
I would cramp up in practice. He taught me how to be a pro. He gave me confidence. He taught me how to be accountable. The main thing he taught was how to play linebacker. I didn't want to disappoint someone that finally gave me what I was looking for. He showed me love.

On going from a part-time starter before Barrow arrived to being a third round pick under Barrow:
I wasn’t even thinking about the NFL. I was done playing ball. I tore up my shoulder at Florida State the year before and I was a senior. I was done. Then Mike got there. He is the reason I went back and he’s the reason I went to the NFL. I didn’t need to come back either -- I had my degree. What Micheal Barrow did was amazing. When a coach makes someone feel wanted, it’s a great feeling. Ask the guys on the Seattle Seahawks what that means. Pete Carroll, that’s what he does. That’s what Coach Barrow does. I owe all my success to him. Everyone knew he was real. I used to read stuff that said Miami didn't have a middle linebacker since Jonathan Vilma. We had Rocky (McIntosh), Jon Beason, Leon Williams. When Mike got here, he stayed with me through the process. He was with me every step of the way. I'm really thankful for him and glad I stayed. I led the team in tackles. I'm forever in the UM books because of him. He deserves to be in the Miami Hall of Fame.

DARRYL SHARPTON

On Barrow as a coach:
Coach Barrow reigns supreme when it comes to great coaches. He truly embodies the term coach in every way. I definitely credit Coach Barrow for giving me not only my skill set that took me to the NFL but more importantly the confidence to play with physical reckless abandon. He would always give me great words of encouragement. He encouraged me and the rest of the backers to play freely and fearless.

On his relationship with Barrow:
He was to me what Cus D'Amato was to Mike Tyson. He went above and beyond to teach and coach. We’d practice techniques in the player’s lounge. He would arrange for Kellen Winslow Jr. to come back to Green Tree to run routes and make us cover him. I could go on and on for a while talking about Coach Barrow but he's a truly an exceptional coach and man.

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