Record book appearances, conference championships, worldwide exposure and a first-class ticket to experience the lifelong development of women’s basketball. Former CU women’s basketball head coach Ceal Barry owns it all.
Barry retired from coaching following the 2004-05 campaign, concluding a very memorable courtside career, which included leading the CU program for 22 seasons. Take a look at her outstanding accolades as a coach, and it’s clear that this lady Buff knows a thing or two about basketball.
As the current CU associate athletic director for student services, Barry continues to uphold her contributions to university athletics. However, her work as a game analyst during CU men’s and women’s basketball games for Fox Sports Net (FSN) proves that genuine love for any game never ceases to exist.
The Campus Press recently spoke with Barry, whose 427 victories are the most by any CU coach, regarding her history and continued involvement with the game of basketball.
The Campus Press: How did your interest in basketball originate?
Ceal Barry: I grew up in Louisville, Ky. The University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky, the University of Cincinnati, Indiana University and Western Kentucky University were probably all within a two-hour radius from my hometown. On the men’s side, they were consistently in the NCAA tournament, and they won national championships. So I grew up right in the heart of this area where basketball was constantly a topic of conversation. It’s like the snow being a constant topic of conversation in Colorado. Basketball is in the paper even during the summer out there, and it is televised all the time.
My dad played high school basketball and college basketball, and my brothers all played a little bit of basketball. I played a lot of sports, but basketball was most exciting to me by far. It was the most challenging, and it had crossover appeal. Field hockey, volleyball and softball were sports that girls played back then. But basketball was the sport that my dad and my brothers played, so we talked about it as a family.
CP: How did you end up at CU?
CB: I was coaching at the University of Cincinnati, and someone said to me, “You ought to apply at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It’s beautiful.” And I had never really been out west, so I did apply, and I did get an interview in April of 1983. And just like everybody else, when I came over the top of the hill and drove down into Boulder, I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever been in my life, and it still is. Boulder is a gorgeous place to live and work, and the campus is the best spot in Boulder, in my opinion.
CP: How has women’s basketball evolved since you began playing and coaching?
CB: When I started playing, women’s basketball was practically at an intramural level. There were no uniforms, no fulltime coaches, athletes were not in condition and it was a seasonal, recreational activity.
When I started coaching, the game began to change. My first coaching job was in 1979, and at that time I think the demands and expectations of the coaches improved. Then the very first televised games came in the 1980s. The 1990s had the Olympics and the first sustained, professional leagues. Now the NCAA Tournament sells out at various levels. It has been pretty exciting to watch over the years. I feel fortunate to have tasted a little bit of both worlds: to experience it when it was purely club and to experience it at its highest level.
CP: What are your favorite coaching memories from CU?
CB: There are a lot of memories. I have the little memories that are the greatest, like being on a really fun bus ride. I also have exhilarating memories of winning a double-overtime game in 1989 to win our first conference championship, having gone undefeated through the conference portion of the season. And there is not a lot of comparison to the sense of accomplishment that you feel from having a team at its beginning and taking it on to win a championship. Wins are great, and the entire staff, the team, the media and the fans share those wins. But private moments with the teams are fun and provide a lot of great memories as well because those are things that happen with a family.
CP: Who has been your biggest inspiration/influence?
CB: I would probably say my dad because he understands the game so well. He could have coached and should have coached, but he had eight children. I cannot think of anybody that I ever got nervous while coaching in front of except for my dad. I wanted my team to be perfect when my dad was there, and no basketball team can be perfect. Had I known then what I know now, I don’t think I would have had him come to the gym to watch practices because I became a lot edgier then, too.
CP: What are your responsibilities as CU’s associate athletic director for student services?
CB: I am involved with all the support services for the athletes. I direct the academic center, and I supervise the directors of strength and conditioning, equipment, life skills, sports medicine and our training table program. I am also the direct report for the head coaches of cross-country, track, volleyball and soccer.
CP: What do you enjoy about your position?
CB: I think it was a really good segue for me to transition out of coaching but to stay involved and work with athletes. Being on a campus and working with students is fun.
CP: How did your work analyzing CU basketball games for FSN transpire?
CB: When I resigned, FSN approached me to ask if I would be interested (in analyzing broadcasts). I thought it would be a great opportunity. I have been able to do it for two years now, and it is a hobby. I really enjoy doing it. I get to sit courtside and watch the men’s and women’s teams and critique what I see. It is a great opportunity to stay involved with the game.
CP: What challenges do you face when analyzing during live broadcasts?
CB: You can never take back something you just said because it is live. There is a lot of preparation. If you make a mistake, it is there for everybody to criticize. And I’m sure I have my share of critics out there who criticize me. Sometimes your vocabulary is not on or your brain is not working, but you still put yourself out there. But I really enjoy the experience, and I hope I get the chance to continue doing it.
CP: Do you find it difficult to stay objective?
CB: It is very difficult to stay objective because I am a CU employee and have worked with the university for 24 years. But you try to call the game as you see it.
As a coach, I was objective about my own team. I was probably more critical of my own team than anyone else ever was because I did not want anyone else to expose any weakness of ours that I had not exposed first. I can be critical of how an offense or defense is run because it is what I did as a coach, but it is not critical in the sense of being negative. It is really about trying to offer good analysis.
CP: What are your thoughts on CU’s current basketball programs?
CB: The women’s program has already won more conference games this season than the previous two years, and you always measure a season by how you do in the Big 12. They are going in the right direction, and I anticipate that they will continue in that direction. Kathy McConnell-Miller (head coach for the woman’s basketball team) and her staff have great personalities, and they have done a really good job recruiting. They have really hit the road. You need to be competitive out there in the summer, and they have good connections.
On the men’s side, it has definitely been a tough year. It’s no secret that it has been a hard year for our guys and the coaching staff. It is a hard condition to coach under when you know that you are leaving at the end of the year. But all things considered, the direction of that program looks promising because they have some really good, young players. There are two weeks left in the season, and then (Athletic Director) Mike Bohn will eventually name a new head coach. It is just the end of one tenure and the beginning of another.
CP: Do you have any notable plans for the future?
CB: Since my resignation, I have always left the option of coaching open, but I enjoy my work here. And I like being able to work with FSN because I can keep my involvement with basketball. I could probably be happy coaching a young, grade school team after I retire; it does not matter what age they are. But I feel good about where I am right now.
Read more about Barry’s vast achievements here.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Corey Jones at email@example.com.