Barnett placed on paid leave by school

Updated: February 19, 2004, 12:44 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Colorado football coach Gary Barnett was suspended for his comments about a female player who accused a teammate of rape, the latest blow to an already-troubled football program.

Barnett was placed on paid leave Wednesday night by university president Elizabeth Hoffman, who also said she was "utterly distressed" over comments Barnett made in a 2001 police report filed by another woman who said a football player raped her.

Excerpts From CU Statements
"I sincerely regret that yesterday a portion of my remarks were either misinterpreted or taken out of context, and I apologize for answering that question in a manner where I must have come across as insensitive. ... I'm a team player and I will accept President (Becky) Hoffman's decision. While I do not agree with it, I will deal with it like I would expect one of my players to handle his consequences."
--Head coach Gary Barnett

"We have had a number of inquiries regarding coach Barnett's recent remarks about former student Katie Hnida's athletic abilities. Clearly, we believe these remarks were inappropriate and insensitive. Whether or not Ms. Hnida was competitive as an athlete is irrelevant. ... Her allegations of rape and sexual harassment by teammates are extremely distressing. These allegations warrant careful and precise examination. We spoke with coach Barnett and expressed our deep concerns about his remarks."
--President Becky Hoffman

"I have expressed to coach Barnett and others my concerns about his recent remarks regarding former student Katie Hnida's athletic abilities. I agree with president Hoffman and chancellor Byyny that these remarks were both inappropriate and insensitive in the context of her allegations of sexual assault and harassment. We urge Ms. Hnida to provide the necessary information so that a thorough investigation of these very serious allegations can take place. ... Let me also emphasize that coach Barnett's recent remarks do not reflect the athletic department's commitment to successful participation by female athletes in intercollegiate competition."
--Athletic director Richard Tharp

Barnett, 57, will be on leave while an independent committee investigates a burgeoning list of allegations involving the football program, including rapes, recruiting parties featuring alcohol and sex, escort services and hiring strippers.

Barnett said he disagreed with Hoffman's decision but apologized and accepted it, calling himself "a team player." He also said the police report contained some inaccuracies.

The suspension came one day after he criticized the performance of former Colorado kicker Katie Hnida, who said she was raped by a teammate four years ago. The coach called her an "awful" player and said she couldn't "kick the ball through the uprights."

Hnida, who now plays for the University of New Mexico, last year became the first woman ever to score points in a Division I-A football game.

Ryan Johanningmeier, who was a team captain while Hnida played at Colorado, said Thursday some teammates could be "a bit nasty."

"However, we all get called names. I got called names," he told ABC-TV's "Good Morning America."

Johanningmeier said that when one player's comments about Hnida got too personal, Barnett "gave this guy a pretty good reprimand in front of the team, reminded us once again that this was a player on the team who needs to be treated with respect. A lot of it stopped at that point, from what I saw."

Hoffman called Barnett's Tuesday comments "extremely inappropriate and insensitive" remarks were the main reason Barnett was put on administrative leave, Hoffman said.

"Rape is a horrific allegation and it should be taken seriously," she said.

After spending much of Wednesday commenting about Barnett's remarks, Hoffman learned police had released the report that quoted an unidentified woman saying Barnett told her he "would back his player 100 percent" if rape charges were pursued. The woman declined to file charges.

Hoffman said she learned of the woman's rape allegation recently, but it was unclear when Barnett first knew of it.

The accusations involving the football program that have surfaced over the past three weeks stem from civil lawsuits filed by three women against the school. They said they were raped by players or recruits at or after an off-campus party in December 2001.

No assault charges have been filed in those cases, but Boulder County prosecutor Mary Keenan said in a deposition for one of the lawsuits that she believes the football program uses alcohol and sex to entice recruits.

An adult entertainment company has also said CU players regularly hired strippers for recruiting parties, and the university acknowledged that an escort service was called from a cell phone that had been assigned to a former football recruiting aide.

CU formed an independent investigative committee this week to look into the accusations, with the goal of issuing a report on April 30. Hoffman also said she would hire an administrator to oversee athletics, reporting directly to her and Chancellor Richard Byyny.

A spokesman for the investigative committee declined comment on Barnett's leave.

Hnida told Sports Illustrated that she was assaulted in the summer of 2000 at the home of a teammate while attending Colorado. Asked why she didn't tell police, she said she was afraid of the player and didn't want a "media mess."

Barnett later that day snapped at a reporter who asked him about her abilities. "It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful," he said. "Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it."

During a brief news conference in Boulder late Wednesday, Barnett apologized "for answering that question in a manner where I must have come across as insensitive."

He said his remarks had been taken out of context or misinterpreted.

Hoffman, who was not present for Barnett's press conference, said the coach "was not apologetic" when she discussed his remarks with him earlier. "It was my feeling ... that he did not understand the seriousness of the comments he had made the day before," Hoffman said.

Byyny said an interim head coach would be named, probably within 48 hours, and most likely would be an assistant coach currently on the staff.

Gov. Bill Owens agreed with Hoffman's decision.

"In view of the serious allegations concerning the CU football program, the action taken this evening by President Hoffman is both appropriate and necessary," Owens said in a statement.

CU athletic director Richard Tharp also supported the decision to place Barnett on leave.

Barnett was hired to coach Colorado's football team five years ago with the goal of ending an era of loose recruiting practices and return the team to national prominence.

He has led Colorado to a Big 12 Conference title and a BCS bowl game in his five seasons as head coach. But during the last two seasons, nine players were suspended for various violations of team rules, including curfew and behavior standards.

Barnett's contract runs through 2006.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press