GREEN BAY, Wis. — Joe Barry is out as the Packers‘ defensive coordinator even after his defense held up well enough to help Green Bay advance to the NFC divisional round of the playoffs.
The move, announced Wednesday by the Packers, came two days after coach Matt LaFleur declined to comment on Barry’s job status and said he was “going to go through the process at my own pace.”
“We want to thank Joe for his commitment and contributions to our success the past three seasons,” LaFleur said in a statement released by the team. “These decisions are extremely difficult and Joe is one of the best men I’ve had the opportunity to work with in this league.”
Barry could remain on the Packers’ staff in some capacity — a possibility that is being discussed, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
LaFleur will be on his third defensive coordinator in six seasons when he hires a replacement for Barry, who had one year left on his contract. Barry had been the Packers’ defensive coordinator since replacing Mike Pettine in 2021.
Barry appeared to be on thin ice as far back as the 2022 season, when the Packers dropped from ninth overall in total defense to 17th. The Packers also finished 17th in total defense this season but climbed into the top 10 in fewest points allowed.
Run defense, however, was one of Green Bay’s major issues under Barry. The Packers were ranked 28th against the run in 2023, down from 26th in 2022 after finishing 11th in 2021. They allowed four teams to rush for more than 200 yards against them in 2023.
The breaking point for Barry might have been a Week 15 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when Baker Mayfield put together a 381-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 34-20 victory at Lambeau Field.
That loss dropped the Packers to 6-8 and a game out of a tie for the final playoff spot, but LaFleur said at the time that he would not make any defensive coaching changes during the season.
The Packers followed that with another defensive dud in their Week 16 victory over the lowly Carolina Panthers, who scored a season-high 30 points and had 394 yards of total offense.
Barry, however, seemed to have the defense turned around late in the season. Even after the 24-21 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, LaFleur called the defensive performance “fantastic.” In the days after the season, however, LaFleur was less committal, saying the Packers would “kind of go through and figure out how we can be a little bit more consistent.”
Before hiring Barry, LaFleur pursued former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who was believed to be the first choice but opted not to leave his alma mater. Barry and LaFleur worked together with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. It was during Barry’s time with the Rams when he worked under Brandon Staley, who ran a version of the Vic Fangio defense. LaFleur hired Barry in part because he wanted to run a similar scheme in Green Bay.
Barry’s hire was criticized in large part because of his previous two runs as a defensive coordinator — with the Detroit Lions (2007-08) and Washington Commanders (2015-16). His defenses in those places ranked between 28th and 32nd in the NFL based on yards allowed.
Staley, who was fired this season as the Los Angeles Chargers‘ head coach, is not expected to be a leading candidate to replace Barry in Green Bay, according to sources familiar with LaFleur’s plans.
Before hiring Barry in 2021, LaFleur also interviewed Ejiro Evero, Chris Harris, Ryan Nielsen, Chris Kiffin, Matt Burke, Bob Sutton and Jerry Gray. It’s possible LaFleur could go back to some coaches on that list, although Nielsen was just hired as the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ defensive coordinator. Evero, Carolina’s defensive coordinator, has interviewed for head-coaching jobs since the regular season ended.
Another possible candidate is Rams defensive passing game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant, who joined LaFleur’s staff for the second half of the 2022 season after he was let go by the Lions.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has devoted resource after resource to the defensive side of the ball. Seven of his eight first-round draft picks since he took over have been defensive players, with quarterback Jordan Love being the only offensive first-round pick during his tenure.