The surprising part of the equation was not that Ceal Barry has spent nearly 40 years at the University of Colorado. She has been a pillar of the Buffaloes’ athletic department for decades.
When Barry announced her retirement on Wednesday following 37 years at CU, it perhaps caused a double-take when realizing it had been 15 full years since she made the transition from the winningest coach in any sport in CU history to a role in the athletics administration.
Barry coached her final game for the women’s basketball program on March 8, 2005, a two-point loss against Iowa State in the first game of the Big 12 Conference tournament. After 427 wins at CU, 12 NCAA Tournament berths, and three appearances in the Elite 8, Barry successfully transitioned into her role as an associate athletic director and, later, CU’s senior women’s administrator and deputy athletic director.
Barry wasn’t the first coach to follow that sort of career path. But she took to her new challenge with the same focus and drive she brought to the sideline at the CU Events Center.
“When I got out of coaching and got into administration, it was a shift in gears,” said Barry, whose retirement officially begins July 1. “I think you develop skills that were kind of latent in one profession. Coaching was a very, very different pace than administration. You have to develop a different set of resilience.
“When I think about what my role was in 2005-06 — training tables, life skills, equipment oversight — into what my role is now in terms of oversight for all sports, I enjoyed that challenge of learning new things. The coaching was 28 years, and it’s somewhat like being a teacher in that it’s repetitive. It’s June, we run camps. It’s September, we have home visits and campus visits. It’s cycled. Administration doesn’t cycle.”
As a coach, Barry always was a staunch advocate for expanding opportunities for women. As she moved into administration, Barry was able to extend that advocacy throughout the entire CU athletics department.
Kris Livingston has worked alongside Barry as a senior associate athletic director at CU, but she also was the director of operations for the women’s basketball program for Barry’s final eight seasons on the court. She believes having Barry’s insight available for the entire athletics department was the biggest asset of Barry’s 15 years in administration.
“She was such a strong advocate for the young women that she coached, and when she moved over to the administrative side she was able to make an impact with all the female student-athletes, and not just for women’s basketball players,” Livingston said. “I think she always worked in the administration with her eyes slightly focused on, ‘How does this affect the women? How does this affect the female student-athletes?’ She made a strong impact there. When you’re in coaching, you’re in your own pod and you don’t have a lot of contact with a lot of the other athletic department staff because you’re so focused on your team. She had so much more contact across campus, and the staff had contact with her.”
Earlier this week, after she announced her retirement, Barry admitted she was grateful for the mentorship provided by former athletic director Mike Bohn and current AD Rick George as she entered new territory in her career. Diagramming an inbounds play is a much different challenge than balancing a budget, and Barry says she stuck to her strengths during her administrative career.
“In coaching, defense is what I did. We had a great defensive team and we didn’t miss free throws. That’s what we did, and that fit me and my personality as a head coach,” Barry said. “What fit me as an administrator was being an advocate. I advocated for women’s tennis. I advocated for women’s volleyball. I advocated for women’s soccer. They needed to have marketing. They needed to have game day experiences. Those things were quiet, and you don’t want to make headlines when you’re in the advocacy business. You work hard not to make headlines. You just work hard to make quiet change, and change culture.
“I think we have a highly, highly equitable approach to how we run our department as it relates to our genders. I’m proud that we’ve moved the culture to how it should be in 2020.”