Assistant coach reflects on playing career, evolution of offense and more

by: GREG ARTMAN - Greg Barton (right), a former NFL quarterback, is now an assistant football coach at Wilsonville High School. Above, Barton chats with Wildcats quarterback Elijah Benedick. For a former NFL quarterback who has coached on the gridiron for several decades, Greg Barton keeps a low profile.

As an assistant coach and consultant, he stands quietly on the Wilsonville football team’s sideline each Friday night.

Maybe he’ll pull aside a player for a brief conversation. Maybe he’ll have a quick strategy session with Wildcats coach Adam Guenther.

Mostly, he watches.

Barton, who was a member of the Detroit Lions from 1968-70, joined the Wilsonville staff after a short stint at Sandy. He has enjoyed sharing his knowledge, insight and experiences with the coaches and players on the local high school team.

“He likes what we have going on, and he’s a phenomenal coach,” Guenther said. “The kids respect him, and he fits in very well with us. We’re just fortunate to have a coach of his caliber.”

Barton’s encyclopedic football memory glimmered as he discussed, among other topics, his career in football, the rise of the Oregon Ducks program, the ongoing development of offensive schemes and the importance of coaches below the varsity ranks.

On leaving Sandy

“I was very happy at Sandy, and I loved the kids there. It was a perfect fit for me. But we just had our eighth grandchild, they’re all in the Beaverton area, and just the drive to Sandy and the drive coming home at night — I was leaving at 5:30 (in the morning) and getting home at 11 (at night) every day. That was something that was bothering me. I was missing my grandkids’ baseball games, soccer games, school plays. That really bothered me.”

On joining the staff at Wilsonville

“It was just kind of fate. I got a call from Adam Guenther — he wanted to know when we were going to do one of our (Barton Football Academy) camps because he wanted to send some kids. He asked about Sandy, and I said I think they’re going to be really good. ...

“When I got the (head coaching) job at Sandy (before the 2012 season), there were two coaches who were extraordinary to me. One was Adam — he said, ‘Let’s meet and have lunch.’ He said, ‘How can I help you make your transition to Sandy better?’ He shared with me the things that are difficult and easy. I’ll always be indebted to him for that. We were going to be in competition, yet he took the time to do that for me. That just blew me away.

“So when we were talking, he made a comment about still looking for coaches. I said I would share some things to get his viewpoint, and I told him about how tough it was on my grandkids. He said, ‘I have opportunities for coaches, and I know this school and this school.’

“I spoke with my wife and she said, ‘Before you know it, your grandkids are going to be 10 years old.’ We have five kids of our own, and I hardly missed any of their stuff. We really believe in family. So when I talked to my wife and she said, ‘That long drive is kind of getting to you,’ I made the decision and went in to talk to Sandy. Then, a week later, once it was made known, I got a call from Adam and he wanted to meet and we met.”

On his relationship with Adam Guenther

“At our camps, high school coaches often show up to watch their kids. I didn’t really know (Coach Guenther), but I would say hi to him, shake hands and thank him for bringing his kids to the camp. We never really had any close friendship up to that point.

“But when I did resign from Sandy and he found out, he called and said, ‘Come over to my house.’ I met his wife and met his kids. I remember driving over from Beaverton to Wilsonville, and it was a Sunday, and it took me something like 12 to 14 minutes. When I got in front of his house, I called my wife and said, ‘Heather, it took me 12 minutes to get here.’ The other thing I liked — he’s a family guy, he believes in family and really talks to us coaches about that. That was really something that I was hoping to do.

“Not many people realize that when I was at Sandy, I coached both the freshmen and the varsity. And I really liked doing it. I asked (Guenther) if I could coach freshmen and varsity. So I’m working with the freshmen, and Adam runs the (varsity) offense. I’m just there — he runs some things by me. He’ll say he wants me to come in at 2, and we just talk football. When he wants to do something against an opponent, he’ll ask me my advice. Sometimes he takes it, sometimes he doesn’t. I really like the relationship we have.

“He’s said, ‘Any time you don’t make it, I’ll assume it’s based on your family commitments. We have our coaches’ meeting on Sunday, and those go five to seven hours, but on Saturday he knows I’ve got all these grandkids. He says, ‘Go enjoy your family.’ So that’s how it is.

“I’m mainly just working with Coach Guenther. He runs the offense, and I’m just there if he needs somebody to work with. I just do whatever he tells me to do. I’m having fun.”

On getting into football

“When you’re young, you do what you want to do. I have two brothers — one was in politics in Sacramento for 40 years, the other was an attorney in Phoenix for 40 years. We all went different roads. I love sports, and I played everything. Long Beach, California, is a hotbed for talent, and just I got into sports.

“I just started thinking that I loved playing, but I also loved learning about the game. As I moved up, it always seemed like I was getting opportunities with coaching staffs to get involved even though I was a player. That got me excited about it. And it’s carried on. I’m very thankful that I’m doing what I’m doing. It keeps you young. You help people. I love the sport itself, but I’ve coached as many years in basketball and baseball as I have in football.”

On choosing city college over a four-year school

“My senior year in high school, I was recruited by 40 or 50 or 60 schools. But in those days, you didn’t play varsity as a freshman. For example, I was looking at USC and UCLA, and USC says to me, ‘You’ll come in and play (varsity) against UCLA.’ I was thinking, ‘Gosh, I want to play.’ Jim Stangeland at Long Beach City College said, ‘We’ll play 11 games, and you’ll play 11 games. In order to get better, you need to get on the field all the time.’ So I went (to LBCC). I didn’t have to — I qualified (to attend a four-year school). But it was one of the greatest experiences to get me ready for life.”

On his experience at LBCC

“In Southern California, the junior-college level is so loaded with talent. It’s absolutely crazy.

“All of a sudden we have 10 or 12 guys who were 26, 27 years old and in the service, and now I’m playing with them. Earl McCullouch from Long Beach Poly — he set a world (440-yard relay) record in track at USC with O.J. Simpson — we grew up together. We were together in Detroit, too. I started to play with Earl McCullouch at 5 years old. In elementary school, we didn’t have grass — it was concrete or pavement. We grew up together. Playing at Long Beach (City College), we won a Junior Rose Bowl and were national champions.

“My second year (of junior college), I was being recruited by everybody, and Coach Stangeland said, ‘You’re ready to go.’ I was going to make a decision and go to Notre Dame, but these Long Beach guys came to my house. I couldn’t leave those guys. So I stayed another year. My last game in junior college was against O.J. Simpson and the City College of San Francisco.

“I got inducted to the LBCC hall of fame and my coach, Jim Stangeland, he was in a nursing home. I got his number, and the next morning I called him. He said that he wanted to talk to me, and we talked for 20 minutes. I was so emotional. What you are today is what your parents give you and those people who were close to you, the opportunities they gave you. Jim Stangeland was tremendous in my life.”

On the 'aerial circus' at Tulsa

“It’s interesting when you go somewhere where they lead the country in offense and passing — that was different because, where I grew up, they had a lot of great running backs, too. It was crazy. They called it the ‘aerial circus.’ We were chucking 40 or 50 passes a game.

“It was an eye-opener for me in Oklahoma. In those days, when you talk about Oklahoma and Texas and Louisiana, you talk about hardcore conditioning. It was almost on the side of abuse. We had kids die of heat exhaustion. That’s the way it was back then. California guys were more beach bums. We played sports hard, but we had fun playing. At Oklahoma and Texas in those days, it wasn’t fun. It was business. I’m glad I went through it because it was a learning experience.”

On leaving the NFL for the CFL

“Looking back, there was nothing I’d change. I loved Detroit. I loved the coaches — Chuck Knox, Joe Schmidt — and playing with guys like Alex Karras and Dick LeBeau, who’s been coaching for 40 years. It was a wonderful situation. I was very close to everybody.

“I had signed a 2-year contract, and in those days if you don’t sign again then you’ve gotta stay at that organization for one year, take a 10-percent pay cut and then you’re a free agent. The day before the draft — the one with (Jim) Plunkett, (Joe) Theismann and Archie Manning— I was traded to the Eagles. When I went and visited the Eagles, Leonard Tose was their owner. I could tell from the day I met him that there’s something not good here. The GM was OK and the head coach was OK, but I kept thinking about Leonard Tose. And I didn’t have a real strong family background, so I went back and told some people who were taking care of me, ‘I’m not gonna sign with Philadelphia.’

“And the reason I went (to Toronto) was, they offered me a spot at quarterback but also a position in coaching and management. I loved Toronto. I loved the CFL. The teammates, we had great guys. It was a great experience.”

On head injuries in football

“It’s a real concern. ... But I’m an optimist. This gives somebody or some company a chance to make a whole lot of money. Can somebody redesign the helmets and make it safer? Just standing on the sidelines, I see that coaches are doing a pretty good job of telling kids not to go head-to-head. A lot of times, when it happens, the kids don’t do that on purpose. It just happens so fast. That doesn’t mean it makes it good — it’s just the way it is.

“People are forgetting — I saw a couple plays where (a ball-carrier) gets hit by somebody, and he’s not going down, so two or three other defenders come down and they’re getting in on the tackle. If anything’s not safe there, it’s often in the knee area. Guys are holding him up, and others are trying to go down lower. And I don’t know if it’s to cut the guy or just to not get around the head area.

“It’s gonna be an issue. It might be 20 years. With our technology and the brilliant people we have, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some new concepts to gear.”

On fitting into a system

“One thing about football or baseball or basketball — some guys flourish in this system, some guys fail in it. Say you’re drafted in the NBA by an organization that stresses defense. If you’re not a guy who loves defense or works hard at defense, you’re gonna have a tough time at that program. The glove has to fit. When you’re young, that’s one of the toughest things.

“Leaving college early, these kids (today), they base it all on one agent. With (current Oregon Ducks quarterback) Marcus Mariota, everyone’s saying he’s gonna do this or that. But the first thing he better do is, he’s gotta get with the right people.”

On the variety of football styles

“Football’s been very interesting. I would compare it to college basketball. With college basketball, if you look at it, they didn’t have the shot clock before. You’d see Bobby Knight’s style and John Wooden’s style. Everybody had their styles.

“It made it fun for fans because it’s completely different offenses and completely different strategies on defense. You’re seeing how’s this team gonna try to beat this defense. Everyone was doing it differently. They could play 20 games and face four defenses they’ve never seen before. Football is very much that way.”

On the importance of personnel

“I remember at Tulsa, the year before I was there, Billy Guy Anderson threw 505 passes in 10 games. Before him was Jerry Rhome — he was throwing 470 passes a year. At that time, Tulsa was the new guy on the block. (Former wide receiver) Howard Twilley, a consensus All-American — his stats were ridiculous.

“So all these schools looked at Tulsa and said, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’ Then Oklahoma comes in and they’re running the wishbone, and everybody’s copying them. The same thing is happening today. Everyone says, ‘This is the answer.’ But there’s one thing that everyone’s forgetting.

“When you look at Chip Kelly, his first two years of recruiting are almost legendary. So it still comes down to your personnel. Chip Kelly came in, and when he inherited the Oregon kids coming back, I’m sure he converted some of them into what he wanted. But I’m sure there were some who weren’t right for his system. To me, it comes down to this: People say, ‘We’re gonna be a fast offense like Oregon,’ but they don’t have the talent to do it. They think it’s just the playbook. But you don’t have his players.

“It’s like Alabama. When (Nick) Saban went in there, the first thing he said was, ‘We’re going to get a very physical run game going. We’ll take on anybody in the world in terms of physicality.’ It took him a couple years of recruiting, and all of a sudden here he is. Texas A&M gets Johnny Football, and everyone talks about how they have a great offensive system — yes, because they built it around him.

“I played against North Texas when they had (Charles Edward) ‘Mean Joe’ Greene, and all of the linemen were draft choices. It’s like, ‘That’s the defense I want.’ But it’s the players. When you have those players on your team, you can play any system you want. When you look at Alabama last year, it wouldn’t have mattered what offense they ran. They were so physical.”

On the development of offensive schemes

“The greatest thing about football is how people come up with concepts. The guy I played for, (former Tulsa coach) Glenn Dobbs, did it way before Chip Kelly. In Tulsa, it was, ‘The aerial circus is coming to town.’

“I really respect Sherwood. Coach (Greg) Lawrence went into that program and basically said, ‘This is what we’re gonna do.’ Not many people were running that. He went to the youth program and said, ‘This is the way it’s gonna be.’ The parents who coached with the youth program when he first came in, they didn’t know anything about option. But he’s pulled it off.

“Chip Kelly, when he went into Oregon, he pulled it off. He’s recruiting the whole country. Football goes in layers. After about five or six or seven years, as people are copying Chip Kelly and Oregon, somebody’s gonna come up with something and people will want to go that way.

“When the wishbone came out, the school that started it was the University of Houston with (former Houston coach) Bill Yeoman. Then it went to Oklahoma and Texas. When those teams were slaughtering everybody, then everybody wanted to look at it. The next one was Delaware, and they had a heck of a run doing that stuff. That’s what makes all these things so much fun to coach. You steal a little here, and you might be a little innovative along the way.

“When Mouse Davis had June Jones and Neil Lomax, he made the run and shoot famous out of Portland State. I remember one game (in 1980) when Roman Gabriel was the coach (at Cal Poly Pomona), and Mouse put him away 93-7. Roman Gabriel wanted to kill Mouse. They just put on a show. Mouse Davis always says, ‘I learned mine from so-and-so.’ June Jones does his thing with Mouse’s stuff. It’s copycat stuff.”

On having an 'entry coach'

"I did some research and saw that Mike Nichols had been the head coach (of Wilsonville freshman football) for 12 years. Mike Nichols is a good coach and a good person. He’s perfect for freshmen. His claim to fame, according to Coach Guenther, is that he’s the greatest recruiter of freshmen you’ve ever seen. Adam said, ‘You’ll be amazed. Before school starts you’ll have 20 to 25 kids, but you’ll end up with a lot more. He talks kids into playing.’ He’s just a good human being.

“When my son was a freshman at Beaverton High School, I really watched closely. It’s very important to have an entry coach. Everybody’s dreaming of playing for varsity, but you’ve gotta start somewhere. If they have a good experience, they’ll want to keep playing. If they have a bad experience, you’ll never see them again.”

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