TERRE HAUTE —
Brothers do battle, but they’re brothers nonetheless.
As John and Jim Harbaugh prepare their teams for today’s Super Bowl rumble, the sons of John “Jay” Barrett will be watching. All of them, and his daughters too.
Inside his brother’s office at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, Greg Barrett, now head football coach at North Putnam High School, said growing up the son and brother of coaches is the only life he knows.
“People ask me about that all the time, but I don’t know any different,” he said, his older brother Chris sitting next to him.
Chris in a Patriot shirt and Greg sporting the Cougar logo, both pointed out they’ve never coached against each other in the manner John and Jackie Harbaugh’s sons will today, but both families share a number of striking similarities, right down to the drive to win through work.
Chris remarked that the Harbaugh brothers’ father was head coach at Western Kentucky University at the same time he was playing for Dennis Raetz at Indiana State University. Jim, then quarterback for the University of Michigan, was standing on the sidelines of his dad’s team as all the Barrett sons had done for their father. A good rivalry had developed between Raetz and Harbaugh during those years, and Chris recalled with a grin that the Sycamores won that particular game.
Competitive natures notwithstanding, the Barrett brothers said the game is ultimately won by the players on the field, the preparation and long-term planning, not necessarily the individual coaching after kick-off.
“It comes down to the players,” both said in unison.
And with modern game film and player analysis, there just aren’t that many secrets which could change the course of play, perhaps a good thing when the coaches have spent a lifetime learning everything they know one from the other.
The Barrett family’s immersion in athletics began with their father, a standout at Gerstmeyer High School and Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame fullback, punter and linebacker. The grandson of the Boston Braves pitcher by the same name went on to marry Nancy Jo Moore, and together they had eight children all still active in athletics at some level. For the next 38 years, the senior Barrett worked at Wabash Valley schools from Scecina, Schulte, Rockville and West Vigo, racking up a 164 career football wins and securing his spot as the winningest coach in Vigo County history before his passing Aug. 14, 1996 after a practice.
Growing up, Chris recalled knowing from an early age he wanted to be an educator and coach. Playing quarterback and free safety for his dad at Rockville High School, he transferred to West Vigo his senior year before graduating in 1987 to play linebacker at ISU, majoring in physical education.
“It was fun,” he said, recalling the various combinations of brothers and sisters playing sports at the same time, and often on the same teams.
His sophomore year at Rockville was his older brother John’s senior season, and together they were part of a team which went undefeated under their father’s direction. He was a senior when his younger brother Kevin began playing at West Vigo, and Kevin also played with Greg when he entered school.
Fairly stoic as the two recalled the family’s accomplishments, Chris and Greg did jovially jab as the younger remarked he was the best of the group athletically, while the elder said Raetz might have a different take based on inter-collegiate records. But both were quick to nod at the sound of their sister’s name, now Christy Barrett Sherman, a fellow Sycamore stand-out at the world level in track and field. Five times between 1989 and 1991 the Gateway Conference Champion in shotput and discus, Christy was a member of the U.S. team for the 1993 World Championships in Germany and a finalist for the Olympic Game Trials in 1992. With a personal best in the shotput at 58 feet, 7 inches, she’s ranked among the Top 20 U.S. female shotputters in history, and the three-time All-American is enshrined in the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame along with her father.
“That was a great experience,” Greg said, recalling how his big sister was competing on the same teams as Jackie Joyner-Kersee and he got to watch.
But being son of the coach, brother of the quarterback, or both at the same time, wasn’t a free ride through the two-a-day practices, Chris said.
“With him, you had to earn everything. So you had to do it the right way. There were not any handouts in my house,” he recalled.
And no sympathy was to be found crying to mom, Greg observed.
“No, mom was probably tougher than dad on us,” he laughed, remembering how she could be heard yelling over their father from the stands.
But the elder Barretts returned more drive than they demanded from their kids, and Greg pointed out how, for years, his parents would follow up a Friday night game only to travel across the country to another on Saturday, from football to basketball to track.
Chris explained that in addition to football, his dad coached track, which meant all the kids ran track, and most of the boys played basketball as well.
But when on the field or court, the brothers were teammates and their dad was a coach. Their nuclear family blended with that second family of sports in a never-ending discussion of practice and games, from the ride home to nights spent watching film.
And as quarterbacks, Greg said those ongoing discussions provided a deep base of football knowledge.
“Let’s just say we had a lot of film time,” he chuckled.
Chris said those discussions have continued throughout the years as the brothers continue coaching, whether at the collegiate level or for their own kids’ events. Having siblings engaged in sports always meant there was someone with whom the others could practice.
“What’s different is you always have someone to play catch with, lift with, run with, bounce stuff off each other,” he said.
Their oldest brother John began helping their dad coach while he was playing football at ISU, as did Chris, who worked at Riverton Parke High School while a student teacher before going to West Vigo. Since becoming head coach at Terre Haute North, John has served as a defensive line and strength coach, and Greg has been his assistant there amid stints ranging from Rose-Hulman and ISU to now head coach at North Putnam. Their brother Kevin will help coach freshman this year, Chris said, pointing out that brother, who is an officer with the Terre Haute Police Department, has sons entering the Patriot teams.
And as was the case with himself, Chris’ own son, Chris, is now playing quarterback for his dad’s team bolstered by uncles.
As head coach, Greg has led the Cougars to a 10-1 season in 2008, a 9-3 season in 2009, and a 14-1 season in 2010, winning the school’s first football semistate title and taking them to the Class 2A Indiana High School Athletic Association State Championship game.
On the sidelines, augmenting his own school’s assistants, were all of his brothers.
“How cool is that?” he said.
Chris said the family still attends St. Patrick Catholic Church and he’s now coaching his daughters and nieces in basketball there. Even if the athletic world were to topple over and the Class 5A Patriots were to face the Class 2A Cougars on the field, the relationships wouldn’t even be scratched.
“There’s definitely a professional side to it, but it’s a very close relationship,” he said.
The Barretts don’t really have family reunions per se, Chris said, explaining the eight kids and army of grandchildren regularly invade their mother’s house for holidays and parties featuring enough food to satiate the appetites of brothers all several inches over 6 feet tall. Both hope the Super Bowl game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers turns out to be a good one, and neither was inclined to make predictions.
But Greg did offer one safe wager.
“I bet a Harbaugh wins it,” he said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.