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IOWA CITY -- George Barnett was 14 years old when his father died and, at the time, although he didn’t know it, the people who could fill that void were his coaches.
“Father figures help you get from point A to point B, not giving you any slack and pushing your heart even though you're lost,” said Barnett, the new offensive line coach at Iowa.
“You're trying to find answers as a 14-year-old kid who lost his dad.”
He said he remembers waking up one morning as a Business major and football player at Millikin University and said to himself: Why wouldn’t he want to be that guy for other kids?
He thought about his high school coaches in football and basketball, men he could lean on when he needed them most.
So, Barnett’s journey began teaching and coaching high school football at Mattoon High School from 1999-2003, where he was an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. He then became a graduate assistant under Harry Hiestand at the University of Illinois in 2004 before stints at Indianapolis, Grand Valley State, Illinois State and Miami (Ohio).
Barnett had just been hired as Tulane’s offensive line coach when Hiestand called him with the opening at Iowa.
“What I thought was, the thoughts I had 10 years ago, eight years ago, seven years ago was that was probably one of those jobs I couldn’t pass up,” Barnett said. “My daughter is 14 years old, and I made sure she was my agent, she had to OK everything, and talking to my son and wife, and they knew how important this situation could be for our family.”
But given Barnett’s roots in the Midwest, especially central Illinois, he said the transition so far has been natural on and off the field. He likes that head coach Kirk Ferentz values family, but also that the offensive line at Iowa is established, not a project.
“I've been at some jobs where they hire an O-line coach and it’s like you're a fireman,” Barnett said. “You come in, put out fires. Here, there's not a fire. Here, they need someone to come in and do it their way but do it in a way that it's cohesive with the players and the present coaches.”
During his first two months on campus, Barnett said he’s been trying to get to know the players and coaches to establish relationships and chemistry. In the past, he said he’s led with his ego going into a job to establish his system, but at Iowa, it’s more about exploring his role.
“Coach (Tim) Polasek was an intense, rah-rah guy, which is good, but coach Barnett is a little bit calmer,” Iowa junior offensive lineman Jack Plumb said. “He’ll still get after you when he needs, but we’re doing the exact same drills focusing on the fundamentals.”
Barnett said every player he’s met is at a different stage in their development, but commended junior center Tyler Linderbaum’s leadership on the team, saying he was “everything people say he is.”
Linderbaum said transitioning from 3 1/2 years under Polasek to Barnett just adds to his knowledge at the position.
"He just brings another aspect of football,“ Linderbaum said. ”Getting a new guy in here to see how he sees offensive line play, he can help me get better for my chances to keep playing football.“
Barnett didn’t end up at Iowa by accident. During his seven years as offensive line coach, offensive coordinator and assistant coach at Miami (Ohio), his program produced seven All-Mid-American Conference players and during the 2020 season, the offense averaged just under 400 yards of total offense per game, allowing only four sacks the entire season, second-best in the conference.
One of his former players, Collin Buchanan, was invited to the NFL combine and signed to the New Orleans Saints on a free-agent contract. Buchanan currently plays Canadian football.
And unlike Tulane, Barnett plans to leave his bags unpacked for a while. It already feels like home.
“I have a hard time believing I'm not gonna be a better husband and father working for Coach Ferentz,” Barnett said. “To me, that’s everything.”
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