On Feb. 24, 2005, Ceal Barry announced she was stepping away from coaching.
For 22 seasons she led the Colorado women’s basketball program. When she made the end of her coaching career official, Barry still had two home games in which to say farewell to the CU faithful, including the last of her 427 wins with the Buffs that weekend against Nebraska.
This time Barry is slipping out the back door, if not exactly quietly, at least somewhat under the radar.
No one could predict the immense fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down NCAA athletics two months ago and kept the CU men’s basketball team from enjoying its return to the NCAA Tournament. It also may have robbed CU of Barry’s services, as this week she announced her retirement following 15 years as an associate athletic director.
Barry said the idea of retiring didn’t suddenly emerge in March, yet the stay-at-home orders of the past two months nonetheless accelerated Barry’s thought process regarding life after CU. Stepping aside from a closed campus also meant avoiding the inevitable office parties and farewell cakes celebrating her 37 years in Boulder.
That part, Barry won’t miss. Not in the slightest.
“I’m so thrilled. You talk about timing? I don’t have to do any of it,” Barry said with a laugh. “With all due respect, I’ve had all that. I’ve had enough feting of Ceal Barry. I’m done with that. So you can write a one-paragraph article and put it on C7 and I’d be fine with that.”
Barry won’t like to hear this, but CU shouldn’t let her off the hook so easily. When the time comes — at a half-empty Folsom Field if needed or, more appropriately, at a women’s basketball game — Barry deserves a more fitting farewell. And at some point a more permanent honor in Barry’s name should be christened on campus. The court at the CU Events Center already bears Sox Walseth’s name, but in this instance some sort of co-ownership of that timeless memorial would be appropriate.
From this corner, Barry is securely among the Mount Rushmore figures for CU athletics (for my money, alongside Byron “Whizzer” White, Bill McCartney, and Rashaan Salaam). Her impact at CU expanded well beyond the sidelines of the basketball court. During her time in Boulder, the Buffs not only became a national power in women’s basketball, but did so in women’s soccer, volleyball, and cross country. After Barry joined the administration, women’s lacrosse was added to that list.
Obviously a lot of coaches put in tireless hours to make that a reality in those other women’s sports. Credit is due to all of them. Yet it was Barry and her women’s basketball program that set the pace and made CU a viable destination for young women driven to compete athletically at the highest level. Barry’s presence while CU ascended as a national power in women’s sports wasn’t a coincidence.
As for what comes next for Barry, even the venerable old coach doesn’t know. Plenty of golf and hiking are on the agenda, but competitive juices are difficult to squash. And Barry has spent four decades as a teacher and mentor. That itch can’t be scratched with a daily round of 18.
“I don’t know if it’s November and December and I’m bored to tears…I don’t know,” Barry said. “I’ve worked since I was about 14 years old. I don’t know what it feels like to get up and not go to work. I think you learn a whole lot about yourself when you make change.
“You don’t see people every day. I go to work and I see 40, 50 people depending on the floor I’m on. That’s going to be a lot different. I’m looking forward to that challenge. I think it is a challenge, retirement, even though that sounds kind of funny.”
Rest assured, it’s a challenge Barry is certain to conquer.