About a week after their season ended this past fall, Athletic Director Daniella Irle informed the Knox volleyball team that the athletic department was starting the process of replacing their coach, Ashley McDonough, who went 34-77 in four years as coach, including just 9-28 in conference play. The reason, as they were told, was that Irle wanted the program to move in a different direction and that they would need to find a new coach for that to happen.
After several weeks of interviews and a few campus visits, Irle announced that Pat Barry had been hired as the new coach for Knox volleyball.
Barry played Division III volleyball at Carthage College in Wisconsin and still holds a top 10 spot in many different Carthage school records. Though only 27 years old, Barry has already made coaching stops at several different schools, including a stint as the coach at DIII Dominican University, as well as time on the coaching staffs of DI Northwestern University and Loyola University, before finally coaching at the DI University of Louisiana program last year. Barry got his start on the coaching side of volleyball after graduating from Carthage and getting involved in the youth and club scene in Chicago, where he eventually worked his way up to the position of program director of DI volleyball club.
Even after all of his success at the DI level, Barry is excited to return to his DIII roots.
“The emphasis on winning is very apparent [at the DI level] and I think, holistically in collegiate athletics, that can’t always be the emphasis,” Barry said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important É but academics has to be a larger piece of it.”
At many of his prior stops, Barry coached men, but prefers to coach women’s volleyball.
“Much like the NBA, you can have one incredible athlete and that’s all you really need for men’s volleyball … whereas with women’s volleyball, it’s a lot more gamesmanship, there’s more strategy and more coaching, honestly,” Barry said.
Though initially caught off guard by the decision to move on from McDonough, freshman Katie Anderson understands the move and is excited to get to work with Barry.
“The biggest thing last year that was frustrating was that we had so much potential but we could never get it all working together at the same time,” Anderson said. “Pat has a lot of high expectations for us and I think everyone on the team knows how good we can be. So I think with his coaching and a new culture, we could be really good.”
For sophomore Mady Ferris, it was clear right away that Barry was the right candidate to lead their team.
“He was our first call and right after we got off the phone with him, I told my mom, ‘I want him to be our coach.’ She said that I have to wait and hear from everybody else, but I was like, ‘No I really want him to be our coach,’” Ferris said. “He has such a passion for volleyball and just being able to hear that over the phone made me know that that’s who I want to be my next coach.”
The feeling was mutual, as Barry immediately knew that Knox was the place where he could truly thrive as a coach and person.
“I know it was just the interview process, but I already felt like family. I’ve come to find that is just the way it is around here,” Barry said.
Irle is also confident that Barry is the right fit to lead Knox volleyball to being competitive in conference on an annual basis.
“The key for me was, who can come in and help us and then in five or ten years, have the skillset to continue developing the program when the program is on its feet. That’s a slightly different skillset,” Irle said. “With Pat, I feel we have the coach who can build a program, but also has the skill set to maintain it when it’s on its feet.”
Barry is already working hard to establish chemistry with his players, as well as figure out what he wants to prioritize in his first season.
“The first thing a successful program has is a successful culture. Winning then becomes a by-product of that. If you take care of all of that business that needs to be taken care of, winning will happen,” Barry said. “It can’t be the end, it has to just be part of the means to the end of being a successful student-athlete.”
Irle sensed this in Barry during the interview process, relating his mindset to that of men’s soccer coach Brian O’Connor and track and field/cross country coach Britton Koestler, her other two hires since starting at Knox in 2018.
“They’re all pretty energetic. They all embrace the D3 philosophy, which I think is important. But they also embrace the mindset of excellence,” Irle said.
Irle acknowledges the difficulty of attracting a strong group of candidates when the team has not been very successful on the court, but sees Barry’s decision to choose Knox as an indicator of what type of coach he will be.
“A lot of coaches will look at these jobs and say, ‘I don’t know, that needs a lot of work.’ That to me just reeks of lack of confidence in yourself,” Irle said.
Moving forward, Irle expects Barry to bring new aspects of community involvement to the table, especially with his background of experience in the youth volleyball field.
“We have got to connect in a more meaningful way with the volleyball community in Galesburg and in the surrounding areas,” Irle said. “There’s a lot of high school and youth volleyball in the area and I think Pat has qualities that can really enhance that and build some relationships that really haven’t been there in the past.”
For now, Barry is busy going on recruiting trips and planning how he will implement his vision for the team. All the while, he prefers to look to the future, instead of the past.
“I don’t care about what went right or wrong in the past,” Barry said. “Maybe everything is going to be different, but we want to make sure that everything is possible.”