Valspar chairman Barber, new Pro Football Hall of Famer, relishes role, responsibilities
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Written by Helen Ross @Helen_PGATOUR
The way Ronde Barber envisioned retirement, he’d be drinking beer and playing golf with his buddies every day. Well, maybe not every day.
“I am still married happily,” the personable Virginian notes.
Barber, who spent 16 years playing cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, certainly didn’t expect to be serving as the general chairman of a PGA TOUR event like this week’s Valspar Championship. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This gives me a lot more purpose, to be honest with you,” Barber explains. “It couldn't be more rewarding. … Obviously I love golf and knowing now how the business works has been very, very cool to kind of figure out.”
Among his duties at Innisbrook Resort this week, Barber will be thanking players like two-time defending champion Sam Burns and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth for coming to compete. And he’ll mingle with the corporate sponsors in the hospitality tents who have helped the tournament surpass $50 million in giving to Tampa Bay-area charities since 1977.
Former NFL player Rondé Barber serves as General Chairman at Valspar
On Thursday, though, the fans will get a chance to celebrate Barber, one of the faces of the Buccaneers franchise who was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month. Fans are encouraged to wear his No. 20 jersey or other Bucs apparel and gather for a special ceremony at the 18th green after the first round concludes.
“It’s actually pretty cool because I've done some private celebrating … but this will be the first time on Thursday that I get to be amongst the public and acknowledge the Hall of Fame with them,” Barber says. “And obviously I know all of them were huge fans and supporters of me throughout my career. So, it'll be a pretty, pretty special moment, I think.”
The speech he’ll make on Thursday likely will come a little easier than the one he’s already preparing for his induction in Canton on Aug. 5. Barber’s been thinking about it since his former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks knocked on the door that afternoon to give him – and his wife, mom, daughter and best friend, all of whom were “home for no reason,” he now says, laughing – the good news.
“I was telling some somebody yesterday, I've made a bunch of bullet points, but I haven't even really started to put it together,” says Barber, who was watching a Manchester United game when Brooks came over. “Just kind of the thoughts that come into my head in the middle of the night, it's three o'clock in the morning, you’re having a dream about it and you're like, I’ve got to wake up and write that down. So that's kind of all I've been doing here the past couple of weeks.”
On Tuesday at Innisbrook, Barber took PGA TOUR Entertainment behind the scenes as he hopped on his special gold – the color of Pro Football Hall of Famers’ jackets – golf cart the tournament had made for him. Among the stops was the Be Bright by Valspar mural tunnel where he met with Burns, who has become a friend over the last two years.
In fact, Barber spent time with Burns and his wife Caroline last year in Ruston, Louisiana, not far from where they live in Choudrant. While they were there, the two visited the Dixie Center for the Arts where Louisiana Tech alum KaDavien Baylor was painting a mural for Valspar, which is in its 10th year as the tournament sponsor. Other murals for the tunnel have been created by artists in Tampa, Nashville, Tennessee and Clearwater, Florida.
“It was fantastic to get to spend like some real quality time with (Sam),” Barber says. “… I would say going to Rustin was big time. I could look him in the eye, and say, ‘hey, how’re you doing, Sam’ and feel like buddies now.
“It's different when you're a general chairman and you're saying, congratulations, here's your trophy and take our check. But you get to break bread with somebody like that, that kind of changed the dynamic a little.”
The two, who had lunch at a local pizza shop with “really nice beers on tap,” says Barber, share an interest in football, too. Burns, who grew up in Shreveport and went to Louisiana State, played defensive back like Barber – although about a generation later.
“I didn't know if he was lying or being hyperbolic, but he is like, ‘oh man, I used to play … Madden with you and watch your game. See if I could be like you.’ It was a great comment when he told me that,” Barber says.
“But then I was like, damn, I'm old.”
Burns remembers Barber as being fearless on the field. And he says there’s no way to underestimate what he brings to the Valspar Championship off the field.
“For him to be an ambassador for this event and the general chair, it's huge,” Burns says. “It's huge for the outreach this event can have -- just his name in this area means a lot. And he's definitely inspired a lot of people in this area, so he definitely draws more attention to this event. So ,it's really cool for him to be a part of that, for sure.”
Barber, whose identical twin brother Tiki played 10 seasons with the New York Giants, spent seven years as an TV analyst. Toward the end of that commitment, prominent Tampa Bay-area businessman and philanthropist Les Muma recruited Barber to serve on the board of directors of The Copperheads, which is the host organization for the Valspar Championship.
“I didn't really know what it entailed,” Barber says. “But then I really found out over the next year or so what the board and the Copperhead group meant to this tournament and the community.”
At first Barber, who took up golf as an NFL rookie and now has a 1.4 handicap index, focused on recruiting celebrities to play in the Monday and Wednesday pro-ams. But he soon began to learn more about the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into staging an event and now oversees it all as general chairman. He works closely with Tracy West, the executive vice president of Pro Links Sports, the management company brought on 10 years ago to handle the nuts and bolts of putting on the most colorful PGA TOUR event in the world.
“Ronde is more than just an honorary position at the Valspar Championship,” West says. “He is a true working general chair, responsible for strategic leadership and is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. He lives and breathes this tournament and has a great passion for all the wonderful impact the event has on his Tampa Bay community. We are very fortunate to work with someone who cares so deeply about the tournament and his role as the Copperhead leader.”
A year ago, Barber, who earned a business degree with a concentration in marketing from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, challenged the board and West and her crew, to “go bigger.” He wanted to see more hospitality venues on the Copperhead Course and inroads to sponsorship dollars and fan engagement in the vast Tampa Bay area market that remains somewhat untapped.
“It's not something that could happen overnight,” Barber acknowledges. “But we still need to grow just in terms of our fiduciary duty to our charities, the ones that we support. … We have we have some that their entire year's charity donations come from us because they work for us during the tournament. So, there's always that responsibility.
“So, my second year, this year, I think is just trying to find a way to balance that need to grow with the reality of how fast we can grow. And of course, that is very much challenged by the current landscape of golf. … But at the end of the day, we have a great golf course. We have perfect time of year, and I think the players like playing us. So, we've actually been pretty good.”
And getting better all the time.