Dallas — It didn't take Michigan State long to replace departing defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and the Spartans didn't need to look far.
With Narduzzi taking the head coaching job at Pittsburgh, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio turned to two of Narduzzi's top assistants, naming secondary coach Harlon Barnett and linebackers coach Mike Tressel co-defensive coordinators for the 2015 season.
Barnett, 47, is a former Michigan State player and will also be assistant head coach, while defensive line coach Ron Burton will remain in the same position. Dantonio will hire at least one more defensive assistant before next season.
"With Michigan State as my alma mater, this promotion means a great deal to me," said Barnett, who was a part of Michigan State's Rose Bowl-winning team in 1988 and was an All-American in 1989. "As a player, I never dreamt about coaching here let alone being named co-defensive coordinator. It's truly a blessing and an honor.
"I appreciate Coach D's belief in me and Mike that we can continue to have the success we've enjoyed on the defensive side of the ball for the last several years. Our success has been largely due to the fact that everyone on the defensive staff along with Coach D have input into what we're doing. There's no dictatorship; we're all brothers. Mike and I have spent the last 11 years working with Coach D and Pat Narduzzi, so we'll be connected for life."
Tressel, the nephew of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, also has coached special teams the past eight seasons. He said the promotions mean a smooth transition for a defense that has ranked in the top 10 in each of the past four seasons.
"I'm excited about the promotion," Tressel said. "I love the way our guys play defense here, and our focus is on continuing to do what we've been doing on the defensive side of the ball.
"The standard has already been set here at Michigan State in terms of how we play defense, and we look forward to continuing that tradition of excellence."
Narduzzi will coach in Thursday's Cotton Bowl against No. 5 Baylor before heading off for Pittsburgh, so it was imperative for Dantonio to move quickly to lock down two of his top assistants.
Barnett and Tressel joined Dantonio's staff along with Narduzzi in 2004 at Cincinnati and have remained intact since.
"Harlon and Mike have been on my staff together for 11 years, including the past eight years at Michigan State," Dantonio said. "They both have had a ton of input and shared a lot of ideas with Pat Narduzzi over the years. The co-appointment ensures continuity in terms of player relationships, defensive concepts and terminology.
"Both Harlon and Mike have done a tremendous job in the individual day-to-day development of our players. Their relationships with our players are strong and true. I have a strong personal relationship with those two, and they will do an outstanding job in their new roles while continuing the legacy Michigan State has built on defense."
While Michigan State has become one of the nation's top defenses, plenty of individuals have had success, as well.
Barnett's players have earned All-Big Ten honors 22 times and the last two Big Ten Defensive Backs of the Year have come from Michigan State – Darqueze Dennard in 2013 and Kurtis Drummond in 2014.
Barnett has also coached three All-Americans (Dennard, Drummond, Trae Waynes) and three Thorpe Award semifinalists (Dennard, Waynes, Otis Wiley). A unanimous first-team All-American, Dennard became the first Spartan to win the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back, in 2013.
"When you look at what our secondary has accomplished statistically over the last several years, Harlon deserves a ton of credit," Dantonio said. "He's helped develop back-to-back All-Americans and Big Ten Defensive Backs of the Year, in Darqueze Dennard and Kurtis Drummond, and several of his players have gone on to play in the NFL."
Under Tressel, Spartans linebackers have earned All-Big Ten honors 13 times and All-America accolades on four occasions (Greg Jones: 2009-10; Denicos Allen: 2013; Max Bullough: 2013).
"Look at the All-America linebackers Mike has helped produce here at Michigan State," Dantonio said. "We've built a history of stopping the run, thanks largely to the play of our linebacker corps."