Since Ceal Barry announced her retirement from CU this past week after 37 years — 22 as the head coach of the women’s basketball team, 15 as an associate athletic director — I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with a number of her former players and assistants. Telling Barry’s story made it easy to get call-backs from sources.
Unfortunately, not all of the great stories and anecdotes could fit in print, but it seemed a shame to let them all go to waste. So here’s the best of the rest that was left on the cutting room floor.
Throughout her career as a writer and journalist, the former CU guard has been candid about the emotional struggles the battled through during her early years at CU. As her career has unfolded, Fagan has grown to appreciate the manner in which Barry, seemingly set in her rigid and disciplinary ways, ultimately adjusted to the personnel on her team.
“For me, the biggest one I think that transcends from all great coaches was her willingness to change and adapt. Which I think is interesting, because she was so rigid and disciplined in so many ways about time and effort and making sure you touch the lines,” Fagan said. “She listened to me as a freshman feeling lost in the sport. It wasn’t a building back up of confidence, I just didn’t feel like myself anymore. She really listened and changed how she coached me. That blend that she offered of the discipline that you need, and then the flexibility on a personal on the individual level, is something that I have carried with me always — being able to bend is not losing that hierarchy of discipline and work ethic in your life.”
Fagan has forged her own successful path as an author and writing for ESPN, and throughout it all Barry has remained a reliable sounding board.
“I would say that I know her better over the last 10 years than I did when I played for her,” Fagan said. “It was only in the past 10 years that I started to see her as the full person she is, rather than getting that glimpse of the coach who showed up every day. The main thing that I noticed from afar, then I witnessed when I got coffee with her, which I try to do whenever I’m in town, is her continued willingness to learn. I never got a sense whatever belief she had was absolutely the right one. There was always a curiosity. That’s one of the reasons I think we still get along and love each other so much. We’re both curious about the world, curious to learn, curious to make ourselves better.”
A senior associate athletic director at CU, Livingston was a player at Miami (Ohio) when during Barry’s pre-Buffs days at Cincinnati. She also was an assistant at Iowa State during Barry’s early years at CU, then served as the women’s basketball program’s director of operations for Barry’s final eight seasons on the sidelines.
Livingston worked alongside Barry in CU’s administration for the better part of Barry’s 15 years as an associate AD, and she always knew the former coach owned the perfect mindset for the transition into the front office.
“We laughed about this at times,” Livingston said, “but she thought all head coaches would benefit if they could take a sabbatical during their coaching careers to go over to the administrative side, see what’s happening and what’s being discussed, and then be able to take that back to coaching. She thought they could be much better managers, supervisors, organizers knowing what’s going on with the rest of the department.
“I don’t think one person will fill her shoes. I think it will be by committee. I don’t think there is anybody on the staff that has her institutional knowledge and history that she poured into that place, and I think it’s going to take a number of people to replace her. I said to her last week she’s still going to be on speed dial. Of all the people in my life, her instinct is the most spot-on.”
It was a unique challenge Lappe took on in 2010, as the former guard under Barry returned to her alma mater to attempt to restore the program’s winning ways…all while Barry, the architect of 12 CU NCAA Tournament appearances and three berths in the Elite 8, served as one of her bosses.
“Looking back, I regret not talking to her every single day when I was in the coaching world,” Lappe said. “I know there were probably times when she really wanted to give some sound advice, but she didn’t because she wanted to provide that guidance when needed. There were plenty of times I’m sure she wanted to come into my office and say ‘Why are you doing that?’ Just a high-character, high-integrity person, and I’m lucky to have known her for such a long time. The impact she had on me and my career was huge.”
Lappe inadvertently has followed a similar career path as her mentor, working now as an associate athletic director and the senior woman administrator at San Francisco. In retrospect, Lappe developed a world of respect for the manner in which Barry allowed her to make her own mistakes leading a program that will always be synonymous with Barry’s name.
“We never had that conversation, but me being on this side now I’m sure it was really hard for her not to say something,” Lappe said. “I do think she knew her role. That’s something she taught all of her players and her staff throughout the years. Everybody had to know their role and know how they fit into the team atmosphere.
“She had so many things to give to so many other coaches, even if it wasn’t basketball. I think the impact that she had on a lot of different coaches in a lot of different sports, and I think as an administrator it’s a little bit easier to have that impact on something you maybe don’t know as well. You’re not thinking of help-side defense, but you’re thinking about different things that as an administrator you can help that coach navigate.”
The former Jenny Roulier hit the most 3-pointers on CU’s 2002 Elite 8 team, and she now is the head women’s basketball coach at Northern Colorado. She also is a Colorado native who, while ascending to prep stardom at Cherry Creek High School, fell under Barry’s influence at CU’s youth camps.
“I came to her camps when I was a young kid at Cherry Creek High School. She was already sort of this strong female figure within our state,” Huth said. “I remember I’d come to camp and you get your picture with Ceal Barry. It’s thousands of pictures and it was a cool thing that she would individually meet with every single kid. We had hundreds of campers and she would take a picture with them all. The community really responded to her. I learned at a young age what the fundamentals of the game were, and a lot of that was her. I didn’t know I was going to go into coaching, but as I’ve gone into it she walked alongside me.”
Huth is hoping Barry’s retirement leads to the acceptance of a few more of Huth’s invitations to watch the UNC Bears practice in Greeley.
“I reached out to her a couple times since I got (to UNC) to have her come watch practice,” Huth said. “We have that sort of relationship where she could coach me really hard and I’d receive it, but she’s softer in her old age. She’ll say, ‘You’re on the right track.’ Every time I’m on the phone with her I have pages of notes, and whenever I get off the phone with her I always feel one step wiser.
“Ceal is very social and I think she’ll find ways to contribute in the game. I’ll invite her to practice often just to come and watch and observe and give her two cents. It’s the simple things — how do you stand, how do you respond, how do you react. It actually doesn’t have a lot to do with Xs and Os that she can really benefit our program and myself with. I think she’ll continue to be a mentor, and she should, for lots of young people. We all need mentors, and someone with that kind of experience is just so valuable. I think she’ll find ways to stay in the game.”