For Kevin Barber, this isn’t a retirement from coaching. In fact, the veteran North Arlington coach for boys soccer and practically every other sport already knows the next time he’ll be back on the sidelines.
“The next time I coach will be her little biddy soccer league where everyone just chases the ball and some kids just pick the grass,” said Barber while looking at his sleeping two-week-old daughter Melina. “ She’ll keep me busy (in the meantime) and it will be worth it.”
Barber let the players and parents know of his impending decision to step down as North Arlington’s boys’ soccer coach during the season. The move became official during Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Barber has spent 10 years as a part of the Vikings’ soccer program, the last two as head coach. In addition, Barber is stepping down as the head golf coach.
“(Melina’s) sitting here next to me sleeping. I’m looking at her and I have a smile on my face right now. But I know it’s going to hurt not seeing those kids on the field anymore, not seeing those kids on the golf course anymore,” Barber said. “I’m going to do what I can to know that they have me as a fan and if they need me, they know where to go.”
While Barber was best known for his coaching on the soccer field, simply calling him a soccer coach would only be a small part of what he’s done during 14 years at North Arlington. Barber had nine different coaching positions in the district, ranging from eighth grade and freshman boys basketball, JV baseball, golf and even girls bowling.
“He’s a Viking. He might not have grown up in North Arlington, but I don’t think he’d coach anywhere else,” North Arlington athletic director Josh Aronowitz said. “He is just in it for the community and he puts the kids first which is something I really, really appreciate about him.”
Barber is the first to admit he inherited a good situation when he took over as head coach for Jess Dombrowski before the 2021 season and year one produced an incredible 18-3 record and a NJIC Meadowlands title. This past season, while it did not match the same level of regular season success, going 10-13, but the Vikings finished the season strong, making the North 2, Group 1 semifinals before losing to eventual champion Glen Ridge.
A week later, Barber was at Rip Collins Field collecting jerseys, an annual reminder of a season now finished. And for Barber, it marked his own jersey return as he closes this chapter of his career.
“I’m just standing at the field staring out there knowing I’ll never coach on that field again,” Barber said. “I kept reliving all of the great things that I saw on that field, whether it was overtime wins, individual performances, statement wins that we had in the states this year. Just knowing how many great moments I was a part of on that field. Not being able to do that again was tough. It was hard to look out there, look at the field and know that this is it.”
One thing that helps put Barber at ease about his decision is the current state of the program. Over the past 11 seasons, the Vikings have won 10 or more games in nine of them, with one of the two they didn’t reach the mark was in the Covid-shortened 2020 season.
With 50 of the team’s 61 goals, including leading scorers Nicholas Stanzione and Vincent Richard set to return next year, Barber sees a team well-position for many more years of success.
“I know whoever gets this job is inheriting a gold mine,” said Barber. “I feel there’s no better situation for a new coach to get into than North Arlington.
“This team will always be a contender for a state championship I feel like. This team will always be a contender to win their league. The state of the program is as strong as it’s ever been and it’s going to stay strong.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)