Support voiced without school's knowledge

Updated: February 19, 2004, 10:37 PM ET
Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. -- A half-dozen former Colorado football players defended their suspended coach Thursday, saying Gary Barnett has provided discipline and morality despite accusations that recruits were lured with sex and alcohol.

Current players, meanwhile, said they hoped the school's burgeoning scandal would bring the team closer together as they prepare for spring practice -- without their head coach.

"He plays a big part in organizing everything," tight end Quinn Sypniewski said of Barnett. "But the other coaches are able to pick up when he's not around."

Barnett was placed on paid leave Wednesday night for criticizing the ability of former player Katie Hnida after she said she had been raped by a teammate in 2000. He said she was "not only a girl, she was terrible," a comment university officials said was unacceptable given the seriousness of her allegation.

Colorado president Elizabeth Hoffman also said she was dismayed by comments attributed to Barnett in a 2001 police report filed by another woman who said she was raped by a football player.

The report quoted an unidentified woman saying Barnett told her he "would back his player 100 percent" if rape charges were pursued. The woman, like Hnida, declined to file charges.

Speaking on CNN's "Larry King Live" Wednesday night, Barnett conceded he probably shouldn't have answered a reporter's question about Hnida's ability as a player. The footage King played from Barnett's press briefing included the questions from reporters in captions and the coach's entire answers, showing he was trying to explain why the players wouldn't accept Hnida.

"I understand how it looked. I took a question maybe I shouldn't have taken," Barnett said. "I was trying to communicate that we cared about Katie, that we were going to any extent we could to help her achieve her dream of being a college football kicker."

Barnett brushed aside a question from King about the alleged rape in 2001 by a football player, saying he couldn't discuss some things because of legal issues. He said he wants to remain at Colorado and expressed confidence that he'll be reinstated.

Barnett will remain on leave while a special committee investigates the Hnida case and lawsuits by three women who say they were assaulted by players and high school recruits during or after an off-campus party in 2001. The committee's first meeting will be March 2. In all, football athletes have been accused of rape in seven cases dating to 1997.

Hoffman and other university officials have said only that everyone's job is on the line, including that of Barnett. University Regent Jim Martin said putting Barnett on leave was the right move.

"Having said that, he should not be the fall guy for the culture," Martin said. "I'll guarantee you, Gary Barnett is not the problem with that culture. Gary Barnett is a football coach. Football is a big entertainment business.

"This goes to all levels of the university, and while he made disparaging remarks about Katie Hnida and sex assaults that happened on his watch, he is not the only individual that ought to be looked at."

The investigation must conclude by April 30, which means Barnett will miss spring drills scheduled for April 2-24. An interim head coach is expected to be named this week, mostly likely an assistant coach.

Barnett was suspended amid a growing list of allegations involving the football program, including rape, alcohol-fueled recruiting parties, escort services and strippers.

Former players called an impromptu news conference to defend Barnett and say media coverage of the scandal has gotten out of hand. Former quarterback Charles Johnson said the players decided on their own to show support, without knowledge of the university or the football program.

"We believe coach Barnett is a man of high moral integrity," Johnson said. "We believe he is doing the right things. A balanced story is not being told."

Scott Nemeth, who played linebacker and fullback from 1998-2001, said Barnett has been a steady hand at Colorado.

"His rules were strictly applied: suspending players or adding additional discipline for being late, dressing out of uniform or displaying any sort of conduct that did not meet the standards discussed in the player book," he said. "Gary Barnett is an upright, honest and moral man and I stand by him as my coach, my leader and my mentor."

Former safety Rashidi Barnes urged a more reasoned approach by the media.

"We're losing focus here," Barnes said. "We have basketball, track, football and a number of athletes who are being bombarded by the media. They had nothing to do with anything, they don't know anything (and) we need to just let the kids get their education."

Current Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt said there seemed to be a rush to judgment.

"I want to encourage everyone -- the media and the public alike -- to wait until the evidence is shown and the facts are out before anyone starts passing judgment on any parties involved," he said.

Klatt, a sophomore, said his first job as a team leader is to "rally the guys and make sure that we have one cause, which is to come closer as a team."

"That's the only way we're going to get through all this," he said.

Senior linebacker Sean Tufts said he was proud to be coached by Barnett and was dismayed his coach's character was being questioned.

But Tufts added that the suspension "might be appropriate. You really shouldn't say those type of things. In his defense, the reporter kind of set him up, and coach Barnett is brutally honest."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press