- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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It took a weekend reunion of football players and coaches at Michigan to make former Colorado coach Bill McCartney speak out in favor of their current embattled head coach.
McCartney, in an open letter to university president Elizabeth Hoffman that he released Monday night, asked her to retain Gary Barnett, his former assistant.
"There were constant reminders to these alums that football taught them life's greatest lessons," McCartney wrote of the former Wolverines, "to put the team first, to get up off the ground and back into the game, to fight for your marriage, family, friend and country. Stay loyal and work through your difficulties.
"President Hoffman, the Michigan formula was brought to Boulder 22 years ago. It works. ... Gary Barnett leads in the spirit of the Michigan Tradition."
Hoffman suspended Barnett with pay in February after his comments concerning former Colorado kicker Katie Hnida and her allegation that she had been raped by a teammate. Hoffman said that she will make a decision on whether to keep Barnett soon, perhaps this week.
The Denver Post reported Monday that former Nebraska coach Frank Solich has expressed interest in the Colorado job. Solich was fired as the Huskers coach and replaced by interim coach Bo Pelini, until Nebraska hired former Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan in January to run the program.
McCartney, who until Monday had maintained public silence about the controversy, decided to use his status as a Colorado coaching legend to defend Barnett and their sport. McCartney, who took the Buffaloes from a two-win season in 1982 to the national championship in 1990, retired from coaching in 1994. He lives in the Denver area and is active in the ministry.
Barnett coached on McCartney's staff for eight seasons, then left after the 1991 season to become head coach at Northwestern. Barnett returned to Boulder as head coach in 1999.
"I've watched the guy," McCartney said Monday night. "He has one of the best marriages I've seen. His relationship with his daughter Courtney is special. He would never take somebody else's daughter and use her to advance his cause. He wouldn't do that."
McCartney also praised Barnett's ability as a coach as well, citing his ability to take Big Ten also-ran Northwestern to consecutive conference championships in 1995-96. But he seemed more concerned with defending Barnett's character.
"If you're winning back-to-back at Northwestern," McCartney said, "you're doing right by the kids. You can't force that. You can't B.S. that. This guy is a solid guy. He has been raked over the coals. He's been done a serious injustice. I worked with him for seven years."
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