SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY — Nederland’s Kevin Barbay talks about rise to SEC playcaller

Published 12:38 am Saturday, January 21, 2023

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At an early age, Kevin Barbay knew his passion was in football.

Along with other family members — Bryan Barbay and Darrell Barbay — he grew up around the profession. He was going to be a football coach.

The Nederland High School graduate and former prep quarterback started his coaching career, like many in Southeast Texas, by working the high school ranks.

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He worked at Monsignor Kelly High School, served as a graduate assistant for Baylor and coached in the Division ranks on his way to becoming a head coach in high school.

That proved to be a pivotal moment in Barbay’s career, where he found out he didn’t want to continue on that path.

MORE COVERAGE: Local football rivalry stays with SEC’s newest playcaller.

His passion was there for football but not to give the time and commitment necessary in support of other sports on a high school campus. He knew then his path was college football and fulltime gridiron focus.

“I’ve been jumping around and trying to make it in a bunch of different roles, trying to navigate my way through the profession,” Barbay says about his last dozen years in the college ranks.

A gifted offensive mind, Barbay’s last two stops, Appalachian State (2022 as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) and Central Michigan (2019-21, offensive coordinator in 2021) have been very successful.

Prolific offensive statistics at those stops caught the attention of newly named Mississippi State head coach Zach Arnett.

“I did not know Coach Arnett when I interviewed with him,” Barbay, 40, told Port Arthur Newsmedia. “It was apparent very quickly that our passion and energy aligned. He is a passionate guy who coaches hard and with great energy. I see his players and the way they play for him and really felt like we just aligned really well. When you kind of know in this profession, you know. It was pretty evident early in the interview process that he was a guy I was excited to work for.”

That led to Barbay accepting the job Jan. 12 as the Bulldogs’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Unique opportunity

Two months ago no one expected Arnett to be the Mississippi State head coach and Barbay to run the offense. Renegade and air raid master Mike Leach led the Bulldogs offense last year.

However the veteran college football savant fell ill this winter quite unexpectedly and tragically died Dec. 13, sending his school and the larger Mississippi State community into mourning.

The school moved quickly to promote Arnett from defensive coordinator to head coach, and now Barbay has been hired to run the offense.

“Obviously, I am following a legend and that is something that is a unique and special opportunity,” Barbay said. “Philosophically, I do things a little different than Coach Leach. Not that either one is better, good or worse. We’ll transition a little to a more multiple type of offense, a little more multiple personnel and a little bit more balanced attack.

“I also need to go in and study how Coach Leach masterminded and used the personnel and built everything. At the end of the day, I am hungry, eager and getting an opportunity I’ve been waiting for and working for every year.”

2022 highs

Barbay’s Appalachian State University squad produced one of the more memorable victory of the last college season when the Mountaineers traveled to College Station and defeated Texas A&M 17-14 on Sept. 10.

The whirlwind experience was complicated when Appalachian State was delayed and didn’t leave Texas for the flight back home to North Carolina until 5 a.m. the next day.

It was while waiting on the tarmac that Barbay and other coaches got word that their victory was leading to ESPN’s seminal Saturday pregame show “College GameDay” to make a stop at the Mountaineers campus in Boone, North Carolina the next week.

Despite the hoopla, Barbay said his fellow coaches were all business.

“We got back into town and I walked directly off of the bus, there was a few hundred to a thousand people to greet us who were still partying from the night before. I walked straight off the bus and right into my office and started working on Troy. There was no time in between. It was straight into work,” Barbay said.

And for the record, Appalachian State defeated Troy, as well.

What’s next

Barbay said his offensive game plans at Mississippi State are going to include a combination of coaching philosophy and evaluation of on-field talent.

“We all have our beliefs in systems that work,” he said. “It is just a matter of if the personnel fits those beliefs. I’m not a stubborn guy and don’t have a big ego to believe in only one way.”

His goal is to find out exactly what Mississippi State personnel is needed to best utilize existing strengths to create explosive plays.

“To be honest with you, every week is a little bit different because some games you are playing against an offense that can score 63 points and you have to outscore them,” he said. “Some weeks you need to play time-of-possession, control the clock and manage the game. That is the balance of making sure you are not being hard headed and still figuring out for your guys what’s the best chance to win the game.”

Coaching career

2023-present: Mississippi State (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2022: Appalachian State (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2021: Central Michigan (Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2019-20: Central Michigan (Assistant head coach/Wide receivers coach)
2018: Stephen F. Austin (Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2015-17: Florida (Director of player development)
2014: Colorado State (Director of player personnel)
2012-13: Lamar (Wide receivers/Special teams)
2010-11: Warren High School (Head coach/Athletic director)
2009: North Texas (Graduate assistant-tight ends)
2007-08: Texas A&M-Commerce (Quarterbacks/Wide receivers)
2005-06: Baylor (Graduate assistant)
2003-04: Monsignor Kelly High School (Wide receivers)