Barnum has his hands on the next rung of that ladder. At 51, he is getting his first shot as a head coach after 26 years as an assistant coach at seven different colleges.
It’s a job he desperately wants. But Barnum isn’t becoming a basketcase over the uncertainty the “interim” tag on his title brings.
How? By using a time-tested tip for acing an interview — Just be yourself.
“I’m just being Barnum,” he said. “(The uncertainty) is there, but I can’t worry about that. If Portland State doesn’t want me, I’ll go somewhere else. I love what I do.”
Being Barnum means he hasn’t tamped down the enthusiastic-yet-blunt nature he’s shown during five seasons as Portland State’s offensive coordinator.
He also will stick to his game plan, which combines the pass-oriented West Coast offense and the run-focused Pistol. Portland State averaged 355.2 yards per game in 2009, the year before Barnum arrived. That stat improved each of his first four years, rising to a Big Sky-leading 540.5 yards in 2013.
Last year’s 3-9 season cost head coach Nigel Burton his job. When Burton was fired in late November, Portland State was looking for an athletic director after Torre Chisholm left in October.
Portland State president Wim Wievel felt the new athletic director should be responsible for hiring the next football coach. But with recruiting season in full swing, the Vikings needed someone at the ship’s helm right away. Barnum got the nod and a 12-month contract to be the interim head coach.
When talking to recruits, Barnum doesn’t gloss over the uncertainty surrounding who will lead the program beyond next season.
“I’m not going to lie to them,” he said. “I’m on an interim contract. A lot of guys bait and switch in college football. That’s not me. If anything I’m as blunt as any college football coach out there, especially in recruiting.”
The seeds of Barnum’s style were planted at one of his first coaching jobs. After graduating from Eastern Washington University in 1987, Barnum became an assistant coach at his alma mater Columbia River High School.
River’s coach at the time, Gordon Elliott, saw potential for Barnum to become a coach at the college level. Within two years, he had landed a job as Western Washington University’s offensive line coach.
What followed were stops Cornell, American International and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. By 2001, Barnum had landed his first offensive coordinator job at Idaho State, where he stayed through 2006.
Portland State will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 2:20 p.m. at Stott Community Field on campus. Admission is free.
Three Clark County players are on the roster. Senior quarterback Kieran McDonagh (Skyview) is competing for the starting job. Sophomore linebacker John Norcross (Camas) saw regular action last season. Senior linebacker Brandon Brody-Heim (Union) is recovering from a knee injury and won't play Saturday.
In 2007, Barnum went back to Cornell as offensive coordinator. In 2010, he became Portland State’s offensive coordinator and once again took up residence in Vancouver.
“At almost every stop, I was with a first-year head coach,” Barnum said. “That makes this perfect, because now I’m in that seat.”
After this season, new athletic director Mark Rountree will decide whether Barnum keeps the job.
Barnum said he’s grateful for the chance to show his product and be judged on the merits of the team’s performance on the field.
“I’ve only been fired a couple of times, so I’m not that bad.” Barnum quipped. “But this is a volatile profession. You have to be able to deal with adversity, or you won’t make it.”