As Ceal Barry drove over that now all too familiar hill overlooking the Boulder Valley and saw the flatirons and the campus for the first time, she had one thought, "I am going to have to work really, really hard so I can keep this job for a long time."
Her work ethic clearly paid off as Barry spent the last 27 years working for the University of Colorado. She grew up reading Sports Illustrated and any sports page she could get her hands on, idolizing coaches who were loyal to a single program-and emulated that in her career.
"I always wanted to be a coach like Joe Paterno or John Wooden" Barry said. "I wanted to be a lifer at one school."
Her goal was to go to a single school and integrate herself into the campus and community. She noted that she only mentions male coaches because female coaches weren't yet in the news when she was growing up. She has been influential in changing that trend.
When Barry arrived in 1983, the average attendance at games was about 100 fans. By 1989, her players knew what it felt like to play in front of a sell out crowd. Barry specifically remembers a game from that season when the Buffaloes took on No. 2 Louisiana Tech. It was the first nationally ranked team CU defeated, and they did it in front of a sold out arena. This game jump-started their season-a season with 27 wins that culminated in the Big Eight Championship.
"We set the standards for what the rest of the programs in the Big Eight did: Iowa State improved their program, K-State improved their program, and Nebraska improved their program to catch up with us in the 90s," Barry said.
Throughout that decade, CU ranked 6th in the entire country in attendance. And the fans were treated to great show as Barry's team dominated the Big Eight and made their first appearance at the NCAA tournament.
Barry's Buffaloes won four conference titles and five conference tournament titles, including the inaugural Big 12 Tournament in 1997.
"Stanford was just loaded with talent, and we weren't, and we beat them," she said.
While Barry's coaching career looks glorious in hindsight, she faced some difficulties in her first few years. Her biggest challenge when she first got to Boulder was finding a way to recruit. When she was the head coach at the University of Cincinnati, she mostly recruited from her car, driving around to major metropolitan areas find local talent.
"I thought where am I going to recruit, where are the players? I didn't know where to go to recruit. Wyoming? Utah?" she said, laughing.
However, she attributes her success to finding great coaching assistants. She hired Beth Burns who helped her expand her recruiting grounds to California, establishing networks with club coaches there.
Barry played college basketball at Kentucky. She credits her father with her love of the sport.
"My dad was a big basketball fan," Barry said. "He played for a state championship team in high school and played for a year in college."
Barry grew up in an athletic household and played softball, volleyball, and field hockey as well as basketball. However, working in the women's athletic department at Kentucky gave her exposure to the types of career opportunities that existed in coaching. She thought she would be far more passionate with this career choice than her designated major, accounting.
She credits her winning coaching style to her parent and growing up with seven siblings.
"There were 10 of us, working 10 different lives to have a productive family," Barry said.
Her parents managed the family as though it were a team. And it was their example that taught her the importance of not only teamwork, but also respecting the importance of each individual.
"I really care about the end product of who the student athlete becomes," Barry said. "It's not just about winning games. Certainly winning is important, you have to win, but the person the athlete becomes at the end of the process is important too."
And winning was something Barry is known for. She retired from coaching with a 427-242 record, 12 NCAA tournament appearances, and multiple showings in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight at CU. She was the 24th NCAA coach to record over 500 wins (510-284 overall). She was a finalist or won Coach-of-the-Year honors eight times and was named Colorado Sportswoman-of-the-Year in 1990. She was also inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Barry considers herself lucky to have moved into her administrative position in 2004-the same time as Mike Bohn became the new athletic director.
"He has trusted me with a lot of responsibility," she said. While she misses having day-to-day interaction with the students, she felt that the university deserved her "leap of faith." Barry felt her coaching career had peaked after 28 years, and that it was time to move into a new role within CU athletics.
Barry is excited for the 2010 Hall of Fame induction, as it will also honor two of her former players, Bridget Turner and Tera Bjorklund. She is both honored and humbled to be recognized within this group of tremendous athletes and coaches. She also views it as a special time for women's basketball. Linda Lappe, Barry's former player, officially debuts as Colorado's head coach the day following the induction.
"It's a women's basketball kind of weekend, and I am excited about that," she said.
Barry's legacy is one of hard work, commitment, and loyalty.
"I hope people remember that I worked really hard," Barry said. "I tried as hard as I could. I put my heart and soul into it. I think people in Boulder and the state of Colorado appreciate the value of a work ethic."