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Northwestern reportedly set to hire Harlon Barnett as DBs coach

David Braun seems to have found his replacement for Matt MacPherson.

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The 2023 Big Ten interim head coaches are teaming up.

On Tuesday evening, On3’s Matt Zenitz reported that Northwestern will likely hire former Michigan State interim head coach Harlon Barnett as its defensive backs coach to replace Matt MacPherson, who was fired in late December. The hire would fill the last vacant on-field spot on David Braun’s staff.

Barnett, 57, has been with MSU since 2020. Before he was promoted to interim head coach in the wake of Mel Tucker’s firing in September due to a sexual harassment scandal, Barnett coached the Spartans’ defensive backs. He served in the same position at MSU from 2007 until 2017, and also spent time as an associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio. Although Barnett went 2-8 as an interim coach in 2023, he helped the Spartans earn 100 wins, three Big Ten titles and a College Football Playoff berth during his first decade in East Lansing.

In the two seasons between his tenures at Michigan State, Barnett was Florida State’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. From 2004 to 2006, he also gained experience coaching Cincinnati’s secondary.

Led by MacPherson and cornerbacks coach LaMarcus Hicks, Northwestern’s secondary gave up .147 estimated points added (EPA) per dropback in 2023, which was 79th in the FBS. It surrendered 182.9 passing yards per game, which was the Big Ten’s sixth-lowest mark.

Even though Northwestern has already lost Rod Heard II and Jaheem Joseph to the transfer portal, Barnett will get to work with a portion of that 2023 core. Devin Turner, Theran Johnson and potentially Coco Azema and Garnett Hollis Jr. will return next fall.

As of now, all on-field positions on Braun’s staff are now occupied assuming Barnett fills this role.