George Barlow’s first acquaintance with North Carolina State came as a graduate assistant coach at Marshall and, oh, was it memorable.
Not the most pleasant memory, though.
Barlow, now a 25-year-veteran of the coaching ranks, tutors N.C. State’s cornerbacks and now carries the additional title of assistant head coach for defense.
He is in his fourth year in Raleigh, brought on by coach Dave Doeren in 2014. And this Saturday, the former Thundering Herd safety will try to inflict the Thundering Herd’s fourth loss by the Wolfpack in as many tries.
Game time at Carter-Finley Stadium is 6 p.m., with the game streaming in ESPN3. It also will air on ACC Network Extra.
“It’s still weird, because I owe so much to Marshall,” he said. “Because I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it weren’t for the Marshall University football program. … Once you’re a part of that family, the Herd family, you’re always part of it.
“On Saturday, I’ve got to try to win one for my team, and after the game I’ll go back to loving the Herd again.”
He was still wearing green, this time a coaching outfit, in 1991 at Raleigh. He had a close-up view of one of the most painful losses in MU football history, as Marshall went up 14-3 but lost 15-13. A crazy-bouncing onside kick and a controversial offsides penalty helped swing the result.
After that game, Herd coach Jim Donnan sprinted after the officials, giving them more than a piece of his mind.
“He was moving pretty fast,” Barlow said with a chuckle. “He was pretty upset. With him, when he was upset, you knew it and you definitely knew it on that day. Because the way that all went down, that was a pretty [upsetting] moment for us, because we felt we had that game won and we felt like we weren’t treated fairly.
“[It was] one of those moments that Marshall people never forget.”
Barlow played for the 1987 Herd, the breakthrough team that advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA championship game. He is one of three Marshall players with three interceptions in a game.
After his career concluded in 1990, he became a graduate assistant under Jim Donnan in 1991, then coached linebackers in 1992 and 1993. In the latter year, the Herd lost another tough game at N.C. State, 24-17.
Over the next two decades, Barlow paid his coaching dues. Along the way, he has coached every position on defense and has served as coordinator, and even as a recruiting coordinator.
He spent 1994 at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, then became the defensive coordinator under Eric Gates at West Virginia State in 1995. He then spent 1996 and 1997 at Oklahoma under John Blake, then was elevated to a full-time position in 1998.
After the Blake era ended in Norman, Barlow went back to I-AA, coaching at James Madison under Mickey Matthews for 10 successful seasons. The Dukes went 76-46 in that time, going to five I-AA/FCS playoffs and winning the 2004 national championship.
As Donnan took over the Herd in Barlow’s senior year of 1990, Matthews was the defensive coordinator. That was the start a long relationship, which has not waned.
“I owe a lot to Coach Matthews. He was pretty much my biggest mentor as far as coaching, and coaching defense,” Barlow said. “I owe him a lot; he’s been a father figure to me my whole career, and he was one of the first people to give me a chance in the coaching business and believe in me.”
Currently, Matthews is shepherding Coastal Carolina’s move into the FBS.
Barlow re-entered the major-college ranks at 2009 under Mike Locksley at New Mexico, but that didn’t go well. In fact it went so rough that Barlow ended up being the interim head coach for the last eight games of the 2011 season. He went 1-7, finishing the Lobos’ third straight 1-11 season.
“Anytime you get that chance, it’s good for an assistant coach to be a head coach,” he said. “That was a great learning experience.”
After New Mexico, he went to another challenging place to coach, Vanderbilt. But that was a ringing success — under James Franklin, the Commodores went 9-4 in both of Barlow’s seasons, breaking into the top 25 both times.
As Franklin headed to Penn State, Barlow applied to join Doeren’s new staff at N.C. State. There was another consideration: Barlow’s wife, Alexis, found a marketing job in the University of North Carolina’s athletic department, where she is in charge of marketing the men’s basketball program.
“I heard a lot of great things about George,” Doeren said. “We have some similar friends in the business who always talked highly of him. They did a great job at Vanderbilt. Micky Matthews, whom he was with for a long time prior to that, has always spoke highly of him.
“One of my closest friends in the business is the head strength coach at Kansas State, Chris Dawson. He and Chris worked together at Oklahoma and Chris always talked about him and had introduced us. It all kind of fit.
“His recruiting ties, up in the Virginia areas and in Georgia were a fit for our staff, and he has done a tremendous job not just coaching, but mentoring some young people here.”