<
>

Support voiced without school's knowledge

2/19/2004 - Colorado Buffaloes

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."