Who is Bruce Barnum? And why is he winning at Portland State?
Who is this guy?
Who is this guy who has turned the FCS ranks on their collective noggin the first two weeks of the season?
Who is this guy who has threatened to make Portland State football relevant for the first time in a long while?
Move in a little closer, and we'll take a peek at Bruce Barnum, the interim head coach who has the 19th-ranked Vikings off to a 2-0 start going into their home opener at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26 versus Western Oregon at Providence Park.
Let's trace the path that took him to the Park Blocks and gain a bit of insight into the man who makes "Barney Ball" tick.
Barnum is a "service brat," the son of Bud and Sally Barnum. Bruce gets his cheerful countenance from the maternal side.
"I've always seen the glass as half-full," says Bruce, who was offensive coordinator for five years under Nigel Burton until Burton was relieved of his duties after last season. "That's probably from Sally. She's never had a bad day in her life."
Bud Barnum had a long career in the Coast Guard, and the family -- which included Bruce's older brother, Kevin -- moved often.
Bruce was born in Maryland, moved twice to Washington, D.C., and spent time in Louisiana, Georgia and Alaska as a youngster. When stationed in the nation's capital, his father served as pallbearer for funeral services for such U.S. dignitaries as John F. Kennedy, Douglas MacArthur and Lyndon Johnson.
In 1978, Bud Barnum retired from the Coast Guard and moved the family to Vancouver, Wash., becoming a marine investigator. His most high-profile case was the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
"Dad traveled for two years, interviewing everybody around the world who had worked with the captain of that disaster," Bruce says.
The family's nomadic existence was tough on Kevin, but Bruce believes it had a positive effect on his life.
"I experienced a lot of different things," he says, "and I've found it easier to meet people. My first impression of someone is usually spot-on. That's helped me in recruiting and with who I hire (as assistant coaches)."
Barnum was a two-sport athlete at Columbia River High, a 6-1, 220-pound ("100 or so pounds ago," he says with a laugh) middle linebacker and a pitcher/third baseman. He attended Eastern Washington on a football scholarship and played two years before coach Dick Zornes pulled his ride.
"I wasn't that good, and they needed my scholarship for somebody else," Barnum says. "They wanted me to coach. I said no. I finished my degree (in 1987) and moved on."
Barnum wasn't sure what to do for a career. "Almost ended up as a tugboat captain," he says. He thought for a while he would get into high school administration. In the meantime, he coached a little football while student teaching at Central Valley High in Spokane. Then he got a job coaching the offensive line at Western Washington, an NAIA school at the time.
"After the first season, I was thinking, 'You get paid for this?'" says Barnum, who earned his masters degree in secondary education at Western. "I loved it."
Soon, Barnum was on the coaching carousel. He worked two years as a restricted earnings coach with the freshman team and the O-line at Ivy League Cornell. He spent one season as run game coordinator and O-line coach at Division II American International in Springfield, Mass., followed by three years in the same capacity at FCS school Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.
Barnum then was hired at Idaho State, where he spent eight years (1998-2006) in a variety of assistant coach positions. Then it was back to Cornell for three years as offensive coordinator before he landed in Portland as the Vikings' O-coordinator when Burton was hired as head coach in 2010.
During Barnum's first stint at Cornell, he met Shawna Quigley, an assistant coach with the women's basketball team. They've been married now for 21 years. Was it love at first sight?
"Oh geez, no, not at all," Shawna says. "I was trying to use him. He was from West Coast, and I was recruiting a kid out of Washington. I asked him if he knew anybody from (the recruit's) school. All the other girls in the department were in love with him; I just left him alone."
The Barnums have two boys -- Brody, a junior at Skyview High, and Cooper, an eighth-grader. Both are quarterbacks. It's a household steeped with interest in sports.
"Bruce's niece was just here staying with us for a while," Shawna says. "She said, 'Is the sports channel all you guys watch?' I don't mind. We wouldn't be together if I didn't love it as much as he does."
Barnum's demeanor doesn't change at home.
"He's extremely easy-going," Shawna says. "I don't think there's a person who has met him who hasn't liked him. At one point 10 or 15 years ago, I told him he had to stop being so nice to his players. We were getting wedding invitations every summer. I said, 'This is getting expensive.'
"He's funny -- sometimes. He's a little bit of a practical joker. He enjoys getting a laugh, and he has taught the boys well. They get me fired up because they like to act like their father."
By spring ball of his first year at Idaho State, Barnum had decided he wanted to be a head coach in the Big Sky. He considers himself a "Portland/Vancouver guy." As a youngster, his next-door neighbors had Portland State season tickets during the Pokey Allen era. He attended some games and followed the Vikings.
"I feel like this is home," Barnum says. "This is where I lived the longest as a kid. I know the area. I love our conference. I know most of the Big Sky's issues. I know Portland State's strengths and weaknesses. I know how to recruit here. I know what the city of Portland can offer."
This is Barnum's crack at a head coaching job over a career that has spanned nearly three decades. Was he nervous about this opportunity?
"Nervous? No," he says. "Excited? Yes. I felt like I was ready for it. I knew these jobs are tough to come by. I thought I had a plan that would work. I just wanted a chance to to execute it."
Barnum says in every new coaching job he has taken, the head coach was in his first or second year at the position.
"That's kind of a lucky thing," he says. "It was a hidden bonus. I learned a lot about what it takes to establish a program. I've seen the pitfalls. I've seen what doesn't work. If you don't match up to where you're at, it's not going to work. I took notes at every one of those places."
Barnum's salary as interim head coach is in the low six figures -- $1,000 more than what he earned as the team's O-coordinator. The Vikings offered 20 percent more to Barnum, who chose to distribute it to his six full-time assistant coaches.
"I knew what my world was," he says. "If I could hire the right people, I could get the job done here."
Barnum has control of his operating budget and has made some changes from the way things were done under Burton.
"I've switched a few things around that has helped us win, in my mind," he says.
Barnum eliminated the football operations position and doesn't have as many support staffers as most Big Sky programs.
"I have assistants in charge of weight room, travel, academics and a few other things, but they're paid more," Barnum says. "They've noticed it."
The Vikings bussed to their first two games -- at Washington State and Weber State.
"That saved us more than $100,000 from our travel budget," Barnum says. "They can be long bus rides, but it develops camaraderie. The kids get tighter. It's good for the (coaching) staff, too. We're a closer unit, win or lose. We know what each other is about."
The players get it back, Barnum says, by staying in nicer hotels. "And we've upgraded the quality and quantity of food," he says.
The Vikings also will bus to games at Eastern Washington and Cal Poly. The latter is an 850-mile caravan that probably represents 32 hours of travel time round-trip.
They'll leave on Thursday, a day earlier than usual, and spend the night at the Hilton in Concord, Calif. On Friday morning, they'll practice at Stanford, then visit San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.
"I've rented two boats," Barnum says. "We're going to take a cruise out to Alcatraz. We'll hang out for three to four hours at the wharf, then get on the bus and head to San Luis Obispo."
Out of his budget, Barnum rented a furnished downtown Portland apartment for his four restricted-earnings coaches to live in rent-free, with a stipend for expenses.
"Had to run that by the athletic department," Barnum says. "They'd never done anything like that before. I'm trying to make the money work."
One other change: Barnum will soon relinquish the play-calling duties to Steve Cooper, his offensive coordinator.
"It might even happen this season," Barnum says. "Steve is energetic, he's bright, and I can coach everything that way."
Portland State has posted a notice for a job application for its head coaching position. Athletic director Mark Rountree says he hopes to soon begin the interview process and that he considers Barnum a "very strong candidate."
Unless Tony Dungy is interested, Barnum would seem to have a great chance at removing the "interim" from his title and getting an additional four or five years to develop the PSU program.
Barnum, 51, says he won't be using the job as a steppingstone.
"If it happens, it means I've reached a goal," he says. "The grass isn't always greener on the other side. I've turned down job offers for family reasons. I moved a lot as a kid. I survived, but I don't want to do that to my kids unless I have to.
"I want to be at a place where, if you hire the right people, if you know how to recruit, you can develop a winning program. For me, Portland State is the place. I'm here. I think I can do this."