TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State has hired Harlon Barnett as the Seminoles’ new defensive coordinator, head coach Willie Taggart announced Sunday.
“I am thrilled to add Coach Barnett to our staff,” Coach Taggart said. “He is a fantastic coach who learned from two of the best defensive minds in the country, and his style of defense will build on the history of dominant and feared defenses in Garnet and Gold. The entire FSU community is going to benefit from having Coach Barnett representing Florida State.”
Barnett joins the Garnet and Gold following an 11-year run coaching defensive backs at his alma mater, Michigan State. He was promoted to associate head coach while retaining co-defensive coordinator responsibilities in 2017 after serving as assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. During his time in East Lansing, the Spartans were 100-45 with three Big Ten championships and were selected for the College Football Playoff in 2015.
At Michigan State, he coached three All-Americans, one Thorpe Award winner, eight different first-team All-Big Ten performers and a total of 27 all-conference recognitions. He also tutored back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year winners after Darqueze Dennard won the award in 2013 and Kurtis Drummond claimed it in 2014. Seven of his defensive backs have been selected in the NFL Draft, including Dennard taken 24th overall in 2014 by the Cincinnati Bengals and Trae Waynes picked 11th overall in 2015 by the Minnesota Vikings to become the highest-drafted Spartan in the modern era of the NFL Draft.
“My family and I are very excited about joining the Florida State football family,” Coach Barnett said. “Over the years FSU has developed a strong reputation for playing a fast, physical and aggressive defense. We plan to play that same style of defense for 60 minutes week in and week out.”
In 2017, Barnett directed a unit that led the Big Ten and ranked second in the NCAA in rushing defense, allowing only 95.3 yards per game on the ground. The team also ranked seventh in the NCAA in total defense by holding opponents to 297.6 yards per game, 18th in third-down defense with a conversion percentage of only .328, 19th in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 20.0 points per game, and had the nation’s 17th-best passing efficiency defense rating. He was nominated for the Broyles Award, which is given annually to college football’s top assistant coach.
Sophomore safety David Dowell earned first-team All-Big Ten recognition, and freshman cornerback Josiah Scott was a third-team all-conference selection, first-team Freshman All-American and a member of the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team. Under Barnett’s tutelage, Dowell became only the second Spartan sophomore defensive back to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors and first since 1983, and Scott made 12 starts in 2017, the most by a Spartan position player in head coach Mark Dantonio’s 11 seasons at MSU.
In his first season coordinating the defense, Michigan State won 12 games and the Big Ten championship on its way to the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl. The Spartans forced 28 turnovers, the ninth-highest total in FBS, while also ranking in the top-25 in rush defense, sacks and scoring defense. Six times that season MSU held its opponent to less than 100 yards rushing. In 2014, he led Drummond and Waynes to All-America honors as Drummond became just the fifth All-American safety from Michigan State.
The Spartans had a historic stretch of defensive dominance from 2011-14 when Michigan State was the only FBS team to rank in the top-10 in total defense each of the four years and became only the second Big Ten team to lead the conference in rushing defense four straight years since the conference started recognizing statistical champions in 1985. The rush defense ranked in the top-two of the NCAA for three of Barnett’s final five seasons, including an NCAA-best 88.5 yards per game in 2014.
The 2013 defensive backfield was highly acclaimed as all four starting defensive backs received All-Big Ten honors, including three first-team selections. That year, Dennard won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back and became the first cornerback in program history to earn unanimous first-team All-America honors.
In 2012, Michigan State ranked third in the nation and first in the Big Ten with a pass efficiency defense rating of 98.8. The Spartans also led the conference with 14 interceptions, ranked second in the Big Ten with 77 passes defended and tied for third with 63 pass breakups. Dennard and Johnny Adams both earned first-team All-Big Ten recognition as the Spartans swept the cornerback spots.
In 2010 and 2011 all four of Barnett’s starters were named to the All-Big Ten Team as MSU grabbed 35 interceptions over those two seasons. The 2010 squad helped lead Michigan State to its first conference championship since 1990 by ranking in the top-25 in pass breakups, passes defended and interceptions. In 2011, the Spartans led the Big Ten and tied for 12th in FBS with 18 interceptions while also ranking 11th in pass defense and 18th in pass efficiency defense.
In his first season at Michigan State, Barnett’s secondary ranked fourth in the Big Ten in pass defense and collected 12 interceptions, which were the most for the Spartans since 2003. His 2008 defensive backfield, led by first-team All-Big Ten selection and Thorpe Award finalist Otis Wiley, recorded 14 interceptions and broke up 50 passes.
Barnett moved to East Lansing with Dantonio after spending three seasons on his staff at Cincinnati and coaching four defensive backs to all-conference honors. In his first season, Barnett directed a secondary that ranked first in Conference USA and 26th in FBS by allowing only 194.2 passing yards per game. In 2006, Cincinnati had the Big East’s third-ranked pass efficiency defense with a rating of 109.3 that ranked 23rd in the nation.
Barnett began his collegiate career as a graduate assistant on LSU’s coaching staff in 2003, where he reunited with his former position coach at MSU Nick Saban. That year, the Tigers won the BCS National Championship, the program’s first national title since 1958, after defeating Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to complete a 13-1 season. The Cincinnati native started coaching in his hometown, serving two seasons as secondary coach and three more as defensive coordinator at Princeton High School.
Barnett authored an impressive career on the gridiron at Michigan State, compiling 154 tackles, six interceptions and 13 pass breakups. He was a three-year starter for the Spartans and earned first-team All-America honors in 1989 when he helped Michigan State rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing defense and total defense. As a sophomore, he helped the Spartans win the Big Ten title and claim their first Rose Bowl victory in 32 years.
His seven-year NFL career began when he was selected in the fourth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. After three seasons in Cleveland, Barnett played the next two seasons with the New England Patriots before two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
Barnett earned his bachelor’s degree in communication from Michigan State in 1990. He and his wife Tammy have two children, Todd and Tori.
Harlon Barnett Coaching History
2018- Florida State Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach
2017 Michigan State Associate Head Coach/co-Defensive Coordinator/DB Coach
2015-16 Michigan State Assistant Head Coach/co-Defensive Coordinator/DB Coach
2007-14 Michigan State Defensive Backs Coach
2004-06 Cincinnati Secondary Coach
2003 LSU Graduate Assistant Coach
2000-02 Princeton High School (Ohio) Defensive Coordinator
1998-99 Princeton High School (Ohio) Secondary Coach