Barnett spent off-time reviewing problem

Updated: May 28, 2004, 7:59 PM ET
Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. -- For nearly four months, Colorado coach Gary Barnett listened as reports of sexual assaults, drug and alcohol use and questionable recruiting practices filtered almost daily from the campus.

It was enough to make him wonder if he'd ever be allowed back.

"There were moments that my faith wandered a little bit as to whether or not what I felt was the right thing to do would be done. Absolutely," Barnett said Friday. "You can't hear and read all the things that were out there for four months without wondering. I don't think anyone expected me to make it through this."

Somehow he did. Barnett was reinstated by university President Betsy Hoffman this week after a nearly four-month suspension. Athletic director Dick Tharp also retained his job.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his reinstatement, Barnett said he spent much of his time off reviewing what went wrong, asking others for their perspective on whether he handled things right.

He said the only thing that got him through the tough times was the support he received from the community, other coaches, current and former players and the players' parents.

"To have the parents, to a person, stand up and go to bat for you, and former players, that's as rewarding as it gets," Barnett said. "It's like going to your own funeral, but this time you get to thank them for coming. My family and I could not have gotten through this without them."

Barnett was a Colorado assistant coach in the 1980s under Bill McCartney when players were accused of crimes ranging from drunken driving to serial rape. He then led Northwestern to two Big Ten titles and a Rose Bowl berth before returning to Boulder to take over for the disgraced Rick Neuheisel. In four seasons, Barnett has led the Buffaloes to a Big 12 Conference title and a BCS bowl game.

It wasn't the football that got Barnett in trouble.

He was suspended Feb. 18 for saying he would have backed a player who was accused of assaulting an athletics department worker in 2001 and for calling former player Katie Hnida a "terrible" place-kicker just hours after she claimed to have been raped by a teammate in 2000.

Barnett said he would be open to talking with Hnida at an appropriate time and clarified his statements about the former Buffaloes' kicker.

"The question was, why wasn't she respected better by her teammates," Barnett said. "And I said not only was it a whole new thing for them because she was a girl, she wasn't very good. I was trying to explain that she was different, she was a girl, and that we had 105 guys. That made her different and when anything different comes in, you're reluctant to accept it."

The tough part is over, but Barnett still has plenty of catching up to do. He returned to work Friday still needing to hire a defensive backs coach, answer hundreds of e-mails and letters, and hold meetings with players that had been put on hold.

Colorado was just 5-7 last season, with a porous defense that gave up 42 points in a loss to lowly Baylor and an offense that generated less than 100 yards rushing per game for just the second time in school history.

Then there's the need to formulate a new plan for recruiting.

With tighter rules put in place by the university and an image that might turn some recruits away, Barnett and his staff will have to change tactics to stay competitive with schools that don't have the same limitations.

"These are parameters. Yeah, it's not what everybody else does, it's not the way they're going to operate, but it's the way we're going to operate," Barnett said. "And we're going to do the very best we can with the way we're doing it. We will make this a positive. It's easy to sell wholesomeness."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press