Mel Tucker Hires Harlon Barnett As Secondary Coach

“I’ve known Harlon Barnett for more than 20 years,” said Tucker.

97.1 The Ticket
February 20, 2020 - 3:56 pm
Harlon Barnett

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Allsport/Getty Images)


EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker has announced that former Spartan All-American Harlon Barnett will return to the MSU defensive staff coaching the secondary.


Barnett is back in East Lansing after two seasons (2018-19) as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. He was MSU’s associate head coach in 2017, his 11th season on the Spartan staff under Mark Dantonio, before departing for FSU. During Barnett’s time in East Lansing from 2007-17, the Spartans were 100-45 with three Big Ten Championships (2010, 2013, 2015) and were selected for the College Football Playoff in 2015. He coached the defensive backs his entire 11 years under Dantonio at MSU; he was promoted to assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator prior to Michigan State’s victory in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic over Baylor, and was appointed the program’s associate head coach in June 2017.


“I’ve known Harlon Barnett for more than 20 years,” said Tucker. “He’s a fantastic coach and recruiter, and really connects with his players. He’s a man of character and family is very important to him. He’s a true Spartan and we’re happy to have him back here in East Lansing.”


Barnett joins Jay Johnson (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Chris Kapilovic (offensive line coach/run game coordinator) and Courtney Hawkins (wide receivers) as new additions to Tucker’s staff this week. Tucker previously announced that Mike Tressel and Ron Burton will be back on the defensive staff for the Spartans.


Barnett mentored one of the top secondaries in the nation on his first coaching stint in East Lansing, as the Spartans ranked among the FBS Top 25 in pass efficiency defense five of his last seven seasons (No. 18 in 2011, No. 3 in 2012, No. 1 in 2013, No. 21 in 2014, No. 17 in 2017). The Spartans also finished ranked in the NCAA FBS Top 10 in pass defense in 2012 (ninth) and 2013 (third). In addition, MSU ranked second in the Big Ten and tied for 10th in the NCAA FBS with 18 interceptions in 2014, and was second in the Big Ten and tied for 23rd in the FBS in 2015 with 15 picks. From 2011-14, the Spartans were the only program to finish in the NCAA FBS Top 10 in both total defense and rushing defense.


During his three seasons (2015-17) coordinating the Spartan defense with Mike Tressel, Michigan State ranked in the FBS Top 25 in both scoring defense and rushing defense in 2015 and 2017.


Barnett coached nine Spartan defensive backs that were selected in the NFL Draft, including two first-rounders (Darqueze Dennard, No. 24, Cincinnati Bengals, 2014; Trae Waynes, No. 11, Minnesota Vikings, 2015), and 13 were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. In 2015, Michigan State became just the sixth school to have cornerbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in consecutive years, joining Alabama (2012-13), LSU (2011-12), Miami-Florida (2005-06), Ohio State (1999-2001) and Notre Dame (1993-94). In addition to Dennard and Waynes, Jeremy Ware (2010, Oakland, seventh round), Chris L. Rucker (2011, Indianapolis, sixth round), Trenton Robinson (2012, San Francisco, sixth round), Tony Lippett (2015, Miami, fifth round), Montae Nicholson (2017, Washington, fourth round), Justin Layne (2019, Pittsburgh, third round) and Khari Willis (2019, Indianapolis, fourth round) have been chosen in the NFL Draft.


Barnett has coached three All-Americans at MSU (Dennard, Waynes, Kurtis Drummond) and three Thorpe Award semifinalists (Dennard, Waynes, Otis Wiley). A unanimous All-American, Dennard became the first Spartan to win the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back, in 2013.

Barnett's players earned All-Big Ten honors 27 times as secondary coach at MSU, including eight different first-team players (Wiley in 2008; Robinson in 2011; Johnny Adams in 2011-12; Dennard in 2011-12, Isaiah Lewis in 2013; Drummond in 2013-14; Waynes in 2014; David Dowell in 2017). All four of MSU's starters in the secondary garnered All-Big Ten recognition during the 2010, 2011 and 2013 seasons, and Barnett coached two Big Ten Defensive Backs of the Year (Dennard in 2013, Drummond in 2014).

With the Seminoles, Barnett coached three players (Brian Burns, Demarcus Christmas and Marvin Wilson) who earned All-ACC recognition, and Burns was also a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award. Burns, who declared for the 2019 NFL Draft after ascending to fifth on FSU’s all-time career sacks list, became the third first-round pick coached by Barnett after being selected 16th overall by the Carolina Panthers.


Michigan State’s school-record seven-game turnaround in 2017 that concluded with a 10-3 overall record, a victory in the Holiday Bowl and a No. 15 national ranking by The Associated Press was led by another strong defensive effort. MSU ranked among the FBS Top 20 leaders in rushing defense (second at 95.3 ypg), total defense (seventh at 297.6 ypg), first-downs defense (ninth with 206), team passing efficiency defense (17th with 113.5 rating), third-down defense (18th at .328) and scoring defense (19th at 20.0 ppg).


In Barnett’s first season coordinating the defense in 2015, along with Tressel, the Spartan defense was one of the main reasons why MSU won its second Big Ten Championship in three years and reached the College Football Playoff. Michigan State finished ranked among the FBS leaders in forced turnovers (ninth with 28), rushing defense (11th at 116.0 ypg.), sacks (23rd at 2.64 pg.), scoring defense (25th at 21.7 ppg.) and total defense (26th at 349.9 ypg.). Barnett was named national coordinator of the week twice during the regular season; he was recognized by after MSU beat No. 7 Oregon on Sept. 12 and held the Ducks to 123 yards on the ground, and was honored by Athlon Sports following the Spartans’ 17-14 win at No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 21 in which the Buckeyes were limited to 132 yards of total offense, the fewest ever by an Urban Meyer-coached team.


A four-year letterwinner at MSU (1986-89) as a defensive back who was named a captain and All-American as a senior, Barnett returned to East Lansing in 2007 with seven years of professional playing experience and nine seasons of coaching experience under his belt.


Barnett spent three seasons as the secondary coach on Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati from 2004-06, and landed his first collegiate coaching job as a graduate assistant at LSU in 2003 under Nick Saban, where he was a part of the Tigers’ National Championship campaign. He began his coaching career at Princeton High School in Cincinnati, where he spent two seasons as the secondary coach (1998-99) and three years as the defensive coordinator (2000-02).


A native of Cincinnati, Barnett was a three-year starter for Coach George Perles at Michigan State. He was a member of the 1987 Big Ten and 1988 Rose Bowl championship team that went 9-2-1 overall and finished eighth in the final polls. Barnett, who also played in the 1989 Gator Bowl and the 1989 Aloha Bowl during his time as a Spartan player, earned first-team All-America recognition by The Sporting News as a senior in 1989. He was a primary reason that the Green and White ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 11 nationally in both rushing defense (95.4 ypg.) and total defense (280.5 ypg.). He compiled 73 stops, high among Spartan defensive backs, along with three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. He finished his career with 154 tackles, six interceptions and 13 pass break-ups.


Following his impressive career at Michigan State, Barnett was taken in the fourth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, where he played for three seasons (1990-92). He spent two seasons at New England (1993-94) and two more with Minnesota (1995-96).


Barnett earned his bachelor’s degree in communication from Michigan State in 1990. He and his wife Tammy have two children: Todd and Tori.





Graduate assistant coach at LSU (2003)

Secondary coach at Cincinnati (2004-06)

Secondary coach at Michigan State (2007-14)

Assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach at Michigan State (2015-16)

Associate head coach/co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach at Michigan State (2017)

Defensive coordinator at Florida State (2018-19)


POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: Player – 1988 Rose Bowl, 1989 Gator Bowl, 1989 Aloha Bowl, 1994 NFL Playoffs, 1996 NFL Playoffs. Coach – 2004 Sugar Bowl, 2004 Fort Worth Bowl, 2007 Champs Sports Bowl, 2009 Capital One Bowl, 2010 Valero Alamo Bowl, 2011 Capital One Bowl, 2012 Outback Bowl, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 2014 Rose Bowl, 2015 Cotton Bowl, 2015 College Football Playoff (Cotton Bowl), 2017 Holiday Bowl, 2019 Sun Bowl.


PLAYING EXPERIENCE: College – Four-year letterwinner as a defensive back at Michigan State (1986-89) and named captain as a senior. Professional – Spent seven seasons in the National Football League, including stints with the Cleveland Browns (1990-92), New England Patriots (1993-94) and Minnesota Vikings (1995-96).