Profiling the MSU Football Assistant Coaches: Harlon DA BANG STICK Barnett- Defensive Backs Coach



Dan Bang Stick brings the same tenacity and ferocious toughness to the coaching side as he did as one of the greatest players in Michigan State history.
Dan Bang Stick brings the same tenacity and ferocious toughness to the coaching side as he did as one of the greatest players in Michigan State history.

Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnett is no stranger to Spartan football. A MSU football standout, Barnett brings both college and professional playing experience to the table. He has been successful in making Spartan Nation proud both on and off of the field.

Barnett joined the Spartan family in 1986. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Barnett came to Michigan State from Princeton High School. He established a reputation as a great defensive back with monstrous hits, earning the nickname “Da Bang Stick”.  In four years on the football team, he was a four-time letter winner, played in the 1988 Rose Bowl, racked up 154 tackles plus six interceptions, and was named both captain and first-team All-American (by Sporting News) in his senior year. Over the course of his time at Michigan State, he not only developed into a great football player, but also gained a great love for the school itself. “It's one of the nicest campuses in America,” Barnett once said. In 1990, the senior captain left Michigan State’s beautiful campus, with a bachelor’s degree in communications in hand, behind for the National Football League.          

 The Spartan grad was drafted in the fourth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. After spending three seasons in Cleveland, Barnett became a New England Patriot. He spent two years there before he joined the Vikings, where he finished his NFL career.

In 2003, Barnett began his coaching career at Louisiana State. After spending only one year as an LSU graduate assistant, Barnett joined Mark Dantonio at the University of Cincinnati. The former player spent three years coaching the Cincinnati Bearcats before following Coach Dantonio to Michigan State in December of 2006. Drawn in by the people and atmosphere, Barnett was eager to help bring a winner to Spartan Nation. Coach Dantonio succeeded in bringing back the school’s winning ways to East Lansing with a great deal of help from Barnett and his players.

Since Barnett so thoroughly knows the Spartan way, it is no surprise that he has instilled it in his players- with great success.  “As a defensive back at MSU you must be able to do three things: 1. Tackle in space; 2. Change directions, quickly; 3. Defend the deep ball,” Barnett teaches. Notice that the first item is “tackle”. Another piece of wisdom that the former Spartan player preaches in practice is that: “It’s all mental”.

Though the secondary’s depth has not always been stellar (many times due to injuries), the coach has turned out nine defensive backs who have earned All-Big Ten Honors. In his time as coach, Barnett has worked with stand-out players such as Otis Wiley, current NFLer Jeremy Ware, and Chris L. Rucker. His last season (his fourth) was his best so far as the Spartans’ secondary coach. His unit was in the top 25 in the nation in pass breakups, passes defended, and interceptions. With returning starters Trenton Robinson and Johnny Adams, Barnett’s fifth year looks to be his best yet.

Not only has Barnett earned a great reputation as a player and coach, but as a man as well. A husband and the father of two children, Barnett is widely known as a nice guy and good man.

With Spartan roots and a great deal of experience, Barnett is a great fit as the Spartans’ secondary coach. And like Coach Dantonio, Barnett is not only a quality coach, but more importantly a quality man.