Former Buffs player is Barnett's top assistant

Updated: February 21, 2004, 1:36 AM ET news services

BOULDER, Colo. -- Colorado named assistant Brian Cabral the interim head coach of its beleaguered football program Friday pending an investigation into a recruiting scandal that includes allegations of player rape.

Cabral will step in for Gary Barnett, who was put on paid leave this week after criticizing the athletic ability of a former Colorado player who says she was raped by a teammate in 2000.

The 47-year-old Cabral said he would try to "pull this team together" and "win back the confidence of the university, the community, the alumni (and) former players in our program."

"I believe our players possess the character we recruited them for," he said. "We will not just maintain but we will build this program."

The recruiting investigation is scheduled to be completed by April 30. Cabral made it clear he considers his job a temporary one and that he expects Barnett to be reinstated.

"I have no doubt when all is said and all is done, we'll find coach Barnett to be a man of character," he said.

The program is at the center of a scandal that erupted three weeks ago with the disclosure of allegations it uses sex and alcohol to entice recruits to Boulder. The claim was raised in depositions for federal lawsuits filed by three women who say they were raped by football athletes in 2001.

Since then, a player has been suspended for taking a recruit to a strip club and a former recruiting aide admitted he used a university phone to dial up an escort service for his personal use.

Far more damaging are the rape allegations. Six women say they were assaulted by football players or recruits, though no charges have been filed in any of the cases.

Among the alleged victims is Katie Hnida, who said this week she was raped by a Colorado teammate and was afraid to tell Barnett and others. She left Colorado after the 1999 season, later saying she was the victim of harassment and that Barnett clearly didn't want her on the team.

University officials have urged Hnida to file a police report and Barnett said her rape allegation came as a surprise to him. He said he wanted Hnida on the team, but sparked sharp criticism responding to reporters asking why she wasn't offered a spot as a placekicker.

He called her "awful" and "terrible," comments that resulted in his suspension by university President Elizabeth Hoffman. She said she was also concerned with his vow to back another player accused of sexual assault by an athletic department employee.

"We need resolution of these charges, we need the work of the committee to go forward and go forward promptly," athletic director Dick Tharp said as he announced Cabral's appointment. "Our commitment is to the students and student-athletes."

Cabral is a former Colorado player who has been an assistant for 15 years. He was promoted to assistant head coach in 1999, shortly after Barnett was hired.

Sophomore quarterback Erik Greenberg had nothing but praise for Cabral.

"There's not a bigger Buff than coach Cabral. He has great heart and great character," he said.

Cabral said the football program was in a "tough spot" and that he has been asked by university officials to continue talking with the team about sexual harassment and alcohol. He said he was confident the team would respond.

"I talked to our team about the character they do possess," he said.

Larry Bloom, the father of receiver Jeremy Bloom, said his family's experience with Barnett and Colorado have been positive.

"We've always found him to be very honorable with us and very honorable with Jeremy and a very solid guy of high integrity," Bloom said.