Barnes new YSU women’s coach

YOUNGSTOWN – Youngstown State University Director of Athletics Ron Strollo knew Bob Boldon would be lured away.

Ohio University zeroed in on the former YSU women’s basketball coach, seeing the job he did in taking a 0-30 team and transforming it into a 23-10 team this past year after three short seasons.

“When we realized Bob was in the running for that position, we internally did some brainstorming with some names and did some reaching out to the friends in this business that are current head coaches at major Division I schools – trying to collect names,” Strollo said.

One name stood out – John Barnes, who was most recently Green Bay’s associate head coach. Thursday, Barnes, 40, was formally introduced as the new YSU coach.

Boldon took the OU job on March 28 and Barnes snagged the YSU job a week later.

“The list we had, compared to the list everyone else had, and the same names kept popping up, we kind of centered our search around those individuals,” Strollo said.

“Fortunately the people we had interest in had interest in us. The more phone calls we made and the more discussion we had, it was clear John was the right fit for this program. We reached out to him. He had interest. We rushed him on campus, gave him a tour, spent a lot of time talking to him and felt comfortable he was our guy.”

Barnes, who was an assistant at Michigan and Wisconsin, along with Green Bay, was shocked that his dream of getting an NCAA Division I head coaching job was coming to fruition so quickly after this past season. Barnes spent seven seasons as Michigan Tech’s coach. He led his alma mater to the Division II NCAA Tournament in five of the seven seasons there – including Elite Eight appearances his last two years.

“In a way I was surprised,” Barnes said. “Upon meeting the administration and them meeting me, it seemed like a very good match and a great situation to move forward with.”

Barnes, who signed a four-year, $110,000 deal with YSU, was highly recommended by Kevin Borseth, who hired Barnes when he was at Michigan and Green Bay.

“Clearly his input played a big factor in this,” Strollo said. “He thinks the world of John, to the point of where he hired him twice. We have great respect of what Green Bay has done and so does everyone else in the country.”

Clearly Green Bay is the team to beat in the Horizon League. They’re so respected that a Google search of Green Bay Phoenix puts the women’s basketball team above the men’s team. The Phoenix captured its 15th straight league title this season, and, once again, went to the NCAA Tournament.

Barnes thinks YSU, despite the graduation of Horizon League Player of the Year Brandi Brown, will not lose a beat from this season.

“I’m a competitor, whether it be racquetball or table table tennis or whatever,” Barnes said. “I have five older brothers and a twin brother. We’ve had some serious battles throughout the years in all of those things. If we don’t do well, I’m going to take it pretty hard on myself. I want to continue to have success, just like at Green Bay. They lost a WNBA player in Julia Wojta (after the 2011-12 season). They had a good group coming back, like we do here. The expectations were how are they going to do what they did last year again. You work hard and find a way and players step up. That’s what I’m looking forward to here.”

Barnes, who describes himself as intense and energetic, plans to enhance YSU’s defense.

“I like to bring a lot of toughness,” he said. “I was a defensive player in college. My coach didn’t want me shooting a whole lot. He wanted me to be put on the other team’s best players. I kind of pride my teams on being tough mentally and physically and working hard. Those are the things I want to bring to the program, not that they aren’t already there, but hopefully bring it to the next level.”

As for Barnes’ offense, he’ll make adjustments as necessary.

“It depends on the personnel,” he said. “If you have players that can run and get easy baskets, you definitely want to do that. If you get in a half-court game, you definitely want to be able to execute your sets, motions and scorers.”

Barnes wants to keep the Penguins on top of the conference.

“The biggest thing is getting players that fit your style and your system,” he said. “In this case, I’m going to use the strengths of what has been built here and then bring in my strengths – offensively and defensively – and bring it to the next level. I’m excited to go through individuals and go through practices to see what level the team brings every day. Working with a team like Green Bay, they work extremely hard every single time they step on the floor. That’s been the difference maker for their program. That gap can be shortened. We’d love to be the team that wins that conference title, whether it be over Green Bay or whoever. We want to put ourselves at the top against whoever it might be.”

Strollo, despite losing Boldon, sees the cycle of hiring Barnes as a good thing for the program.

“You hate losing coaches, but it’s sure better for them to move on than for you to get rid of them,” Strollo said. “Those things happen in our business. All you ask of coaches is to leave it better than they came in. He sure did that. Now it’s our job to stabilize what he’s done and maybe grow upon that.”

Barnes agrees.

“It’s just such an opportunity that when it came about I wanted to work here,” he said. “I hope to continue the program in the direction it’s going in – hopefully win some championships when I’m here.