Ronnie Barnes went through East Carolina's sports medicine program, becoming the first certified athletic trainer to graduate from the program. He was then named as an assistant trainer and instructor for ECU after graduation in 1975.
He moved on to Michigan State University, where he earned his master's degree in 1977 and became head trainer and an assistant professor.
In 1980, he was named head trainer of the NFL's New York Giants. Barnes was named the National Professional Trainer of the Year by the National Athletic Trainer's Association of America in 1983 and 1987. He has also been selected to Michigan State's Athletic Hall of Fame.