UMBC called and offered its athletic director position to Brian Barrio on Dec. 6. The timing couldn’t have been better.
“I got the call on my birthday. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten,” Barrio, 42, said during his introductory news conference Tuesday morning at the UMBC Event Center in Catonsville.
He then motioned to a tie he was wearing. “My dad gave me this tie,” he said. “It’s second.”
Barrio, who served as athletic director at Central Connecticut State, succeeds Tim Hall and will begin next month. Hall resigned in July and started Aug. 5 as the athletic director at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Barrio said. “It’s something I’m excited about. It’s also a big responsibility. You’ve got 400 student-athletes. That’s 400 families that are trusting me to be part of their education. That’s the campus faculty and UMBC community trusting me with the reputation of their school. I don’t take any of that lightly.”
As the Retrievers’ fifth athletic director, Barrio inherits a 17-sport department that competes at the NCAA Division I level and has enjoyed recent gains. The men’s basketball program became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament when it upended Virginia, 74-54, in 2018 and has won at least 20 games in three consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.
The Retrievers captured a school-record four conference championships in 2018-19, and athletes combined to post a department-record 3.14 GPA in fall 2018 for the third straight semester. More than 66% of the athletes had a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Barrio said the next step is taking the department’s recent success and using it as a foundation for greater strides. That directive pleased several coaches in attendance, such as Pete Caringi of men’s soccer, Johnetta Hayes of women’s basketball, Ryan Moran of men’s lacrosse and Ryan Odom of men’s basketball
“I like what he said about building on success because I think sometimes you have a tendency to always talk about the past,” Caringi said. “I think when you have success, you have to build on it because if you don’t, you’re always going to be kind of stagnant. That’s important to me.”
Barrio, who led Central Connecticut State when the institution won four Northeast Conference titles and the baseball team enjoyed its first NCAA tournament victory, said he will take time to talk and listen to athletes, coaches and community members and “won’t change for the sake of change.” But Barrio, who played a role in increasing fundraising for the department at Central Connecticut State by 44% and starting a new athletic donor club, said one of his immediate tasks at UMBC is raising money and generating revenue despite the absence of a football program, which he does not view as a detriment.
“I actually like the idea that we can focus on a couple sports here that are clearly priorities for them,” he said. “That’s where we want to key our donor relations. … We’ve got to figure out corporate partnerships, relationships with donors. That stuff is a top priority.”
After earning a bachelor’s in communications from Boston College in 1999, Barrio worked in compliance at the America East in 2010-11 and Ivy League in 2005-06 and was the director of compliance at Southern California in 2006-08. He was also the senior associate athletic director at Nevada and the associate athletic director at Pepperdine before moving to Central Connecticut State.
Barrio said his experience at the America East helped finalize his decision to join UMBC.
“I saw it as a model for college athletics,” he said. “This is a place where you do not compromise on academics. You do not compromise on the personal development of student-athletes. … That’s something that obviously can’t change and I want to help develop. It’s a model for the balance between academics and athletics.”
Hayes, who is in the midst of her first season coaching the women’s basketball program, said she is looking forward to working with Barrio.
“If he can just help us grow in the right direction, that would be a success,” she said. “We want to bring in the right student-athletes, and we want to hopefully compete for an America East championship.”
The Retrievers have also dealt with a few alarming episodes. Last fall, three women linked to UMBC joined a lawsuit against Baltimore County authorities — including the school and the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland, among others — that accused system-wide neglect of crimes of sexual violence and bias towards women.
One woman, a former student, alleged she was raped by four UMBC basketball players on campus in 2014, according to the suit. A second woman said she was assaulted by three baseball players inside a house.
Two of the basketball players were expelled, but Baltimore County police and the state’s attorney’s office said there was not enough evidence that a crime had occurred. In April, the baseball players countersued the woman who accused them of sexual assault for defamation, malicious prosecution, abuse of process and invasion of privacy.
While pointing out that many campuses in America have been roiled by sexual violence, Barrio said it is important for his department to be clear when dealing with similar incidents.
“We have to be transparent with these things,” he said. “No matter how good you are at education and how good your kids are, there’s going to be situations that come up with student-athletes. So the question is, how as a department do you respond to those? Do you handle them transparently? Do you follow federal regulations? Do you do the right thing?”
Odom was one of the coaches who interviewed Barrio when he visited the campus in late November, and he said he remains impressed with Barrio’s push for growth.
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“Success is never final, and we don’t feel like we’ve arrived by any stretch,” Odom said. “We just want to keep improving, and it’s not just men’s basketball. It’s the entire athletic department. We want to continue to grow.”