Clancy Barone spent two hours in front of a chalkboard for his first coaching interview, scribbling line formations, and stressing hand placement and hip movement for guards and tackles.
He detailed X’s and O’s to the point that sweat dripped off his chin.
This was in 1987, not long after Barone’s college career in the trenches ended at Sacramento State. The chalkboard skull session took place inside the football offices at American River College, where head coach Larry Ghilardi was impressed with the young man’s presentation and gusto.
But there was one problem.
“The job was for a receivers coach,” Barone recalled by cellphone Friday, laughing, as he drove to his native Red Bluff to visit family and friends. “Whoops. That was strike one.”
Strike two nearly happened later that night and strike three the next day, and who knows how Barone’s coaching venture might have turned out otherwise. He might not have ultimately landed the job as the offensive-line coach for the Denver Broncos, whose line of protection was paramount in defeating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in February.
That’s some crowning moment after nearly getting crowned a royal dunce a generation earlier.
Barone, embarrassed about the receiver gaffe in 1987, thumbed through the Sacramento phone book, found Ghilardi’s number and called him. It was 11 p.m., and Ghilardi was asleep. Finally, the old coach relented to the pleas and set up another meeting for the next morning, provided Barone bring the coffee and more ideas.
Barone said he could coach the offensive line better than the man who did so the previous season. Ghilardi doubled as the line coach then. Awkward tension. But strike three never happened. Barone landed the gig – as line coach – and set his career in fast-forward motion. He coached four seasons at ARC, then had six more college assistant coaching stops: Sac State, Texas A&M, Eastern Illinois, Wyoming, Houston and Texas State.
Barone broke in as an NFL assistant offensive line coach in 2004 with Atlanta, then coached tight ends with the Falcons, Chargers and Broncos from 2005 to 2009. He has been with the Broncos ever since. Barone can chuckle at his long journey. And how it will come full circle Saturday when he returns to ARC, in front of a board. But this time, it’ll be a whiteboard, and Barone will be in his element.
Barone, 52, will be the keynote speaker for the “Linemen Win Games” coaches clinic hosted by ARC coach Jon Osterhout. Barone will discuss how to develop a winning culture, how blocking and tackling are still vital at all levels of the game, and the importance of chasing dreams. Find a way to achieve, in other words.
While coaching at ARC, Barone made ends meet as a bartender and bouncer. And he had an office at ARC, too, because he found a way.
“It was on the stage, in the gym, a little closet with mop buckets, and we moved in a steel desk, put in a 16mm movie projector, put a sheet on the wall to break down film,” Barone said. “I shared that office with the janitor, and I was so happy to have it. I’m going to see if that old room is there, check on the mop bucket, and take a selfie.”
He’ll be sure to send the picture to his 80-year-old mother, Hazel, whom he had dinner with in Red Bluff on Friday night after checking out his old stomping grounds at Red Bluff High School.
An army of family and friends watched Barone’s football ascent, but three men dear to him didn’t get to see his Super Bowl moment. Barone lost his father, Leo, in 1999. An Air Force veteran who worked for years in the prison system and later managed apartment buildings, Leo survived five heart attacks before succumbing to cancer.
“I miss my dad,” Barone said. “He was diagnosed, and we lost him 78 days later. He was my best friend, someone I talked to all the time when I went to college, after college. We’d talk about whatever, or nothing, career things, and he’d let me talk and vent.”
Ghilardi died of cancer in 2000. Bob Mattos, Barone’s coach at Sac State and later his boss, died of cancer in 2010.
Barone’s losses make him appreciate his gains. He stresses a family atmosphere in football, and he’ll mention it in his ARC visit. Teammates and coaches are family. You’ll bicker with some like brothers and fight for them when it really matters out of loyalty and love of the game.
Barone said the Super Bowl triumph is still sinking in amid a hectic schedule.
“I wish I could take more time to appreciate what we did, and I know it’s important, life-changing stuff,” Barone said. “If Dad was still alive, we’d spend time talking about it over a Scotch. We get our Super Bowl rings on June 12, and then, it’ll finally sink in what we did, what I’ve done.”