Sam Barry

From Academic Kids

Justin McCarthy "Sam" Barry (December 17, 1892 September 23, 1950) was an American collegiate athletic coach who achieved significant accomplishments in three major sports. He remains one of only three coaches to lead teams to both the Final Four and the College World Series.


Early career

Barry was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota. After starring in basketball, baseball and football while a student at Madison (Wisc.) High School, he continued his success at Lawrence College, later completing his degree at the University of Wisconsin. He returned to Madison High School to begin his coaching career, and then proceeded to become athletic director at Knox College in Illinois from 1918 to 1922, where he also served as coach of football, basketball, baseball and track.

In 1922 he was named basketball coach at the University of Iowa, and also became a football assistant under then Hawkeyes coach Howard Jones – an association which would continue for 15 years at two universities. Barry also coached the Iowa baseball team in 1923-24. Barry led the Hawkeye basketball team to Big 10 co-championships in 1923 and 1926 – the first two conference titles in team history – and helped Jones guide the football squad to an undefeated 7-0 season in 1922, winning a share of the Big 10 title – the last for Hawkeyes football until 1956.

In 1929, the University of Southern California was looking for a new basketball coach, and Jones – at USC since 1925 – recommended his old colleague for the position. Barry followed Jones out west, and took over the USC basketball program as well as the baseball team, while also resuming his duties as an assistant football coach under Jones. Barry's Trojan teams enjoyed unprecedented successes on the USC campus, winning Pacific Coast Conference titles in basketball in 1930, '35 and '40 – along with eight southern division titles between 1930 and 1940 – and conference baseball crowns in 1930, '32, '35, '36, '39, '46, '47, '48 and '49. In 1940, the USC basketball team was widely considered to be the best in the nation, and participated in the nascent NCAA tournament; but they lost a chance at the national title when they were upset in the national semifinal at Kansas City, against Kansas, when the son of opposing coach Phog Allen made a basket with seconds left for a one-point victory. Despite the loss, the Helms Athletic Foundation later retroactively selected USC as the 1940 national champions.

Barry was also a valued part of the USC football teams which claimed national championships in 1931, 1932 and 1939, as well as seven PCC titles and five Rose Bowl victories. He was Jones' top assistant on the sidelines from 1929 to 1940, also serving as the team's chief scout and coach of the "Spartan" scout team; Barry was often credited by the "Headman" with devising the strategies that proved most effective in shutting down opponents. Although such titles were not used at the time, Barry's position would likely have been equivalent to that of the modern defensive coordinator. The team's football successes included a 25-game winning streak from 1931 to 1933, and the undefeated 1938 team's 7-3 victory in the 1939 Rose Bowl against Duke – a team which had previously not allowed any opponent to score.

The 1940s

After Jones' sudden death in 1941, Barry was a natural choice to take over the reins of the football team, thus becoming head coach of all three major team sports simultaneously. He had not been without success as a head coach himself; his Knox College teams posted a record of 15-12-4 from 1918 to 1921, including a perfect 8-0 mark in 1919. Although the 1941 team finished with a losing record, Barry was faced with numerous obstacles. Not only was the team mourning the loss of Jones, but Barry also found himself facing a schedule in which a majority of USC's opponents were coached by future Hall of Famers, including Paul Brown, Frank Leahy and Clark Shaughnessy; injuries and illnesses also took their toll, depleting the roster at one point to a mere 28 players. Despite these roadblocks, Barry put together a team which improved offensively throughout the year, gaining popularity as the season progressed the crowd of 86,305 at the USC-Stanford game was the largest in the nation in 1941. And the team made some upsets, defeating Rose Bowl-bound Oregon State, and nearly toppling 4th-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend before falling by only two points.

In 1942, other concerns took precedence as Barry entered the Navy for service during World War II. He recommended Jeff Cravath to take over his duties as USC football coach, and Rod Dedeaux as baseball coach for the duration of the war. As a lieutenant commander, Barry was in charge of physical and military training of Navy personnel in the South Pacific, for which he would later receive a Naval Commendation from then Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.

After leaving the Navy in 1945, Barry resumed his positions leading the USC basketball and baseball teams, while also returning as a football assistant under Cravath. He began to restore the basketball program to a nationally competitive level, and found his greatest success yet in baseball. At the 1948 College World Series, the Trojans captured their first title by defeating a Yale team captained by future President George Bush; they had a chance to repeat in 1949, but were eliminated when they suffered a pair of extra-inning losses to Wake Forest, both by 2-1 scores.

As the years passed, however, it became evident that Barry was suffering physically from the stress of his various responsibilities. Nonetheless, despite medical warnings, he agreed only to give up coaching the football scout team, continuing as head coach of two sports and serving as chief scout and sideline assistant in football. Tragically, it was while scouting a USC opponent that he died; attending a University of California football game on September 23, 1950, he suffered a heart attack while climbing the hill to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, and died before reaching the hospital.

At USC's next home football game – fittingly, against Iowa – the student body paid tribute to Barry during halftime, taking the field in a block "SC" formation and, after the Coliseum lights were turned out, lighting matches on the field of the darkened stadium for a minute of silence in memory of the coach. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.


Barry's 18 seasons as a USC assistant football coach (1929-'40, '45-'50) rank second only to the 26 years served by school legend Marv Goux; his 19 years of overall participation in the program trail only Goux (31 years) and Cravath (23 years). His death came just as USC basketball was regaining its pre-war success, on the cusp of the West Coast's 1950s surge in the sport which included teams coached by John Wooden at UCLA, Phil Woolpert at San Francisco, and Pete Newell at California.

Sam Barry's players benefitted greatly from his leadership and teaching ability. Four basketball players – Jerry Nemer, Lee Guttero, Ralph Vaughn and Bill Sharman – earned consensus first-team All-American honors; Barry is one of only 12 coaches in history to guide as many players to this honor. Perhaps his most visible legacy is the large number of his players who went on to successful coaching careers in their own right: Sharman, Alex Hannum, Tex Winter, Jack Gardner, Forrest Twogood and Bob Boyd in basketball, and the incomparable Rod Dedeaux in baseball. In addition, Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson got his real start in the sport while serving as a USC batboy in the 1940s; 14 of Barry's baseball players went on to appear in the major leagues.

Barry was also nationally renowned as an innovator – he was the person most responsible for the elimination of the center jump after every free throw and basket in basketball, a move which resulted in a much faster-paced game; and he was also behind the move to create the center line and 10-second rule. He was the inventor of the triangle offense, which his pupil Tex Winter has refined to bring great recent successes to the NBA champion Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers teams. And Barry, along with Kansas coach Phog Allen, was one of the two primary national advocates of the delayed offense (commonly referred to as "stalling"), which is today a staple of college basketball strategy at such powerhouses as Kansas and North Carolina, and throughout the country.

A respected figure in basketball circles since his early years – Barry was one of the two officials who worked the 1923 Illinois high school basketball championship game – he served on many significant NCAA committees in his later years, and was a primary force in establishing such national playoffs as the NCAA basketball tournament and the College World Series. His teams' popularity spread to the playing field and court as well – in addition to the leading crowd of the 1941 college football season, his 1939-'40 basketball team drew a record crowd when visiting Madison Square Garden.

His accomplishments as a coach still stand today – his 40-game winning streak in basketball against UCLA, compiled from 1932 to 1942, and continued in 1946, stands as the longest winning streak by any coach against a single opponent in the history of college basketball. Only two other coaches have duplicated his achievement of leading teams to both the Final Four and the College World Series. In 1966 he became a member of the charter class of inductees to the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, and in 1978 he was elected to membership in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.


  • "His successes as a basketball, baseball and football coach would fill several books but it can be safely said that when Sam died suddenly ... he left not one enemy along the trail of his phenomenal career. ... In the years to come, Sam Barry will be talked about in the same breath with Dr. Naismith when the development and progress of the game of basketball are discussed." – Paul Zimmerman, Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1950
  • "I feel that the Pacific Coast Conference has lost one of its finest coaches and I feel a great personal loss. He was one of the scrappiest coaches during a game and one of the nicest persons I've ever known after the game. He was a fine fellow in every respect." – John Wooden
  • "It is impossible to pinpoint Sam Barry's friendliness, his effect upon all groups. Sam was a man who loved his fellow men, loved life, loved living. He leaves a big hole, not only in the Trojan family, not only on the West Coast, but on the entire national scene. Sam Barry was a leader, the finest type of American citizen. Never having done a mean or injurious thing in his life, it is certain his soul rests in peace." – Dick Hyland, Los Angeles Times, September 26, 1950
  • "About the University Sam was affectionately known as 'Elevator Sam'. That was because he had more 'life' on the bench than gridders and coaches alike. He was up every time the ball bounced. Sam got a full measure out of living and fellowship. And whereas in this day of specialists most mentors confine activities to one sport, Sam lived three full, and complete, lifetimes in sports. And, exceptionally, Sam was tops in all three. He was considered second to none in basketball. He coached numerous champions. His baseball teams were frequent titleholders." – Al Santoro, Los Angeles Examiner, September 24, 1950
  • "For 34 of his 57 years the genial coach, whose name ranked with the Staggs, Warners and Joneses as bywords of the intercollegiate sports world, had engaged in one of athletics' most successful careers. ... Barry is the man most responsible for basketball as it is played today, a game that leads the nation in attendance." – Jack Geyer, Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1950

Records and accomplishments

Longest winning streaks by a coach against a single opponent, college basketball:

Note: Currently, school records do not credit Barry with coaching the team in 1942, which would reduce the streak to 38 games; however, newspaper reports indicate that Barry was still actively coaching the team, both in practice and in games, until after the two 1942 UCLA victories.

Coaches who have guided 4 or more players to consensus 1st-team All-American honors in men's basketball:

Coaches who have led teams to both the Final Four and the College World Series:

  • Sam Barry (USC) – Final Four in 1940; CWS in 1948 and 1949
  • Everett Dean (Stanford) – Final Four in 1942; CWS in 1953
  • Frank McGuire (St. John's, North Carolina) – Final Four in 1952 (St. John's, runner-up) and 1957 (UNC, champions); CWS in 1949 (St. John's)

Note: Barry's teams won only the baseball title, while Dean's and McGuire's teams won only the basketball title; however, Dean and McGuire were not coaching both sports simultaneously in the years involved, as Barry was.

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