Current Trojan linebackers were informed at a special meeting Friday morning, the first position meeting of the offseason.
"We were all kind of wondering what [the meeting] was for," Scott Starr said. "As soon as [Barry] had a serious face I kind of knew something was up."
Barry, who oversaw three freshman linebackers start the majority of USC's 10-2 season in 2011, was in his third year with the program. Before he joined the Trojans in 2010, he had nearly a decade of NFL coaching experience. Barry was also a graduate assistant at USC for the 1994 season.
The coach's outgoing personality and commitment to improving served as a major recruiting tool for the Trojans' past three recruiting classes.
"I was very surprised when he broke the news to me, that was the main reason I committed to USC," linebacker Hayes Pullard said. Pullard tied a team-leading 81 tackles in 2011, along with fellow freshman linebacker Dion Bailey.
Starr, one of five early enrollees this January, also felt strongly about Barry .
"Coach Barry was one of the reasons I came to SC," Starr said. "I like coaches that will get in the heat of the game with you, that will give you chest bumps after an emotional play."
"He was a father figure to me both on and off the field," Pullard said.
But Barry's players appreciated him breaking the news to them directly. Just as his students have big dreams to play professionally, they understood their coach's desire to go back to the league.
"I love him for that, that he actually came and spoke to us, I respect him even more.
"It was like basically the same thing we went through in recruiting…we realize on National Signing Day where we want to go and then we make our decision. He did the same thing and chose San Diego," Pullard said.
"He just told us it's his dream to be a [defensive coordinator] in the NFL," Starr recalled. "He said this isn't the end of the road. It was like a 'see you later' type of deal, not a goodbye."
As for USC's immediate future? There are currently two coaching vacancies as the Trojans' approach a season that many predict will have a national championship ending. A defensive backs coach and linebackers coach are expected to be named soon, but Barry's void will be hard to fill.
"You can't replace Joe Barry," Pullard said.
"But I think our coaches will be able to bring someone into USC who is well qualified. As for us, we're going to keep striving to get better because [Barry] always tells us that we're peak performers and we need to be leaders."