Harlon Barnett is taking on a special role for Michigan State. A longtime assistant in East Lansing, Spartan AD Alan Haller confirmed Sunday evening that Barnett will serve as the interim head coach moving forward.

Barnett has been handed that role with head coach Mel Tucker suspended without pay during an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. Fortunately for Barnett, he will receive some help in the new role with former head coach Mark Dantonio returning as an interim associate head coach.

As for Barnett, it will be his first shot at head coaching duties at the college level. Here are 3 things to know as he prepares to lead the program:

A former Spartan star as a player

As a player, Barnett was a defensive back star for George Perles’ Spartans in the 1980s. He was a 4-year letter winner from 1986-89 and served as a captain during his senior season.

Barnett finished his career with 154 tackles, 6 interceptions and 13 pass breakups. He was also a member of the 1987 Michigan State team that went 9-2-1 as Big Ten champs. The Spartans would finish the 1987 season ranked No. 8 in the final AP Poll and beat USC 20-17 in the Rose Bowl.

Served on staff for one of Nick Saban’s national championship teams

After leaving the Spartans, Barnett spent 1990-96 playing in the NFL for 3 different franchises. He eventually began his coaching career as an assistant at Princeton High School in Ohio, but his first college job came under Nick Saban.

Barnett joined Saban’s LSU staff as a graduate assistant for the 2003 season. Though his time with the Tigers lasted just one year, Barnett was a part of an LSU team that went 13-1 overall and beat Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game.

Prior to serving on Saban’s coaching staff, Barnett played for Saban when the legendary head coach was DBs coach at Michigan State and in the NFL while with the Cleveland Browns from 1990-92.

Barnett’s brief broadcasting career

After finishing his NFL career, Barnett had a chance to return to Michigan State, but not as a coach. Nick Saban, then the head coach of the Spartans, called Barnett to serve as the sideline reporter for the program.

That’s a job Barnett held for two years:

“He called me one summer about doing Michigan State (and) being the sideline reporter because he remembered that I was a communications graduate, and then I went to broadcasting school when I was playing for the Browns when he was coaching there,” Barnett said in 2015 per MLive.com. “So he remembered all that stuff and called me about coming to do that.

“So I did that for his last two years as Michigan State. Right after the games, I interviewed him.”

The broadcasting career did not stick for Barnett, but coaching has. After his one year at LSU, Barnett was hired by Mark Dantonio as the DBs coach at Cincinnati ahead of the 2004 season.

Barnett held that position from 2004-06 before following Dantonio to Michigan State in the same role. He would add additional roles to his title in 2015 but stayed with the Spartans from 2007-17.

Barnett did leave East Lansing for a brief stint at Florida State as DC for Willie Taggart from 2018-19 but returned to coach DBs for Mel Tucker in 2020. Now, he will do his best to guide the program through a tumultuous season as the interim coach.