Barnett says his public perception must change

Updated: June 8, 2004, 2:10 PM ET
ESPN.com

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit sat down with University of Colorado head football coach Gary Barnett on Friday for an exclusive interview to air as SportsCenter's "Sunday Conversation." It will debut during the 10:30 a.m. ET show Sunday and on that night's 11 p.m. ET show and subsequent Monday re-airs.

The interview, held at the university, marks Barnett's first national one-on-one since he was reinstated by the university's athletic department following a three-month paid suspension.

Gary Barnett
Getty ImagesColorado coach Gary Barnett is expecting big things from DE James Garee.

In the interview, Barnett looks back on the four-month period of turmoil at Colorado, and his own suspension; responds to his much-criticized reaction to the charge by former Colorado kicker Katie Hnida that she had been raped by a teammate; explains how he views his responsibilities in the wake of the controversies; and explains how he feels his way of presenting himself in public must change.

Kirk Herbstreit: "You were criticized about your comments about Katie Hnida following her rape allegation. The remarks centered around her inability to play football. When you look back at those comments now, how do you feel about what you said?"

Gary Barnett: "The remarks themselves were insensitive ... I think the whole message I tried to get across that day was about supporting Katie, and trying to prove Katie right in these situations. And why we were so supportive of Katie and why we did want to make it work. The way of making that point ended up being a really poor choice on my part. I could have said it a different way than I did, and of course I wish I had. I've had to live with that."

KH: "In an e-mail to your AD, Dick Tharp, on Feb. 17 of this year, you said, 'How aggressive should I be regarding Katie, sexual conquests by her, etc.?' What did you mean by that?"

GB: "If I knew that was going to be something that everybody was going to read, I would have thought about it and I would have said how discreet should I be with the information that's come to me?"

KH: "Recruits going to strip clubs is an issue. Does it bother you to think about that perception out there that CU is using strip clubs to bring in players to come play football here?"

GB: "I think that that whole concept is an insult to the parents of those players and it's an insult to the players themselves. It's an insult to the university. It's sad that perception has to exist. As far as strip clubs go, it's not illegal. Anybody who went to a strip club did not break a university rule. But do we want them taking recruits to a strip club? Absolutely not. You know why? Because my mother wouldn't approve. And I don't think their mothers would. And if you go over that line, then there are consequences for doing it."

KH: "There have been several allegations of rape committed by Colorado football players or by recruits. How would you respond to these women who were allegedly raped?"

GB: "Rape is a very, very serious crime. And people who commit that crime need to be punished and they need to be punished quickly. There needs to be justice done. Someone needs to pay if this has happened. The second thing that I want to say is this: There's been no one charged; there hasn't been a name come out. We've had two prosecutors. We've had a special prosecutor of the state's attorney general. We've had our own county prosecutor who is a sexual assault specialist and no one has had a charge. And those people are paid to do a job, and they do their job very well."

KH: "Because of the judicial system, you feel comfortable in thinking, 'There haven't been any rapes on my campus,' because there hasn't been enough information to prove that."

GB: "You put me in a tough spot there with that question. Watching the prosecutors and watching the police, opening up everything we have to them completely in compliance with them ... If someone has done something, then they need to pay. That's been our attitude. So my response to you to that question: give us a name; charge somebody; show us. Who is it? We want that person held accountable as well. But if we don't have any names and we don't have any charges, then what are we supposed to do?"

KH: "How difficult was it to watch a former recruiting assistant admit to calling an escort service with a university cell phone? And then have many people link those phone calls to your recruiting efforts here at CU?"

GB: "That was a huge shock to all of us. First of all, I'm not very worldly, so I don't know much about those sort of things. To find out that he did it ... it just floored me. Fortunately we know it wasn't linked to any recruiting. It wasn't linked to any funds or anything like that. But it's not the way it looked. We couldn't control that, so that information has sparked a huge outcry and formed opinions. Hopefully when this whole thing settles we're going to get exonerated."

KH: "The woman who runs this service has told ESPN that Nathan Maxcey made calls for athletic-looking men. How do you respond to that?"

GB: "That's still being investigated and it's out of our hands. I just know that our auditors are going through every book, every piece of paper, piece of money that's gone in and out of our program and we're not involved with it."

KH: "Was the suspension fair?"

GB: "I don't know. I make decisions every day for personnel, coaches, and players. I think each one of those decisions I make that are disciplinary are fair. The people on the other side that receive the discipline usually don't think it's fair. President Hoffman thought it was fair and that's all that really counts in this deal."

KH: "You're in a position where you're at the top of the leadership chain. At what point do you feel that you are responsible for the players' action?"

GB: "I'm responsible to educate them. I'm responsible to hand out consequences to poor decisions. If I shirk those responsibilities, then I shirk my head coaching responsibilities, or my educator responsibilities. I think the responsibilities we have are the same as any other educator because that's what we are."

KH: "Do you think what you went through in the last six months will change your philosophies on how you deal with a player's actions?"

GB: "I think there's pressure out there for me to be even more severe than I have. I'm not going to succumb to the pressure. I'm going to make the decisions based on the information I have, what I think is right or wrong in a situation, based on the severity of it."

KH: "With what you've been through these last six months, and what your family has been through, how have you changed?"

GB: "I've always been brutally honest and very candid. I haven't held anything back. I'm that way with our team and I'm that way with our coaches and I'm that way with our children. And what I found when I was that way in the public is that I come across as arrogant. I come across as maybe defensive. So I have to somehow change that perception. I just have to do that because much of my personal dilemma here has come about because of an extreme candid answer to a question. I put my family through a lot. I put, in some ways, our program though a lot because I was being who I was. Maybe I can't be that way. I've learned that. I've learned a great deal in this whole process. It would have been a waste of four months of my life if I hadn't taken the opportunity to learn. I learned something every single day. It's going to make me a better person. It's going to make us a better football team. It's going to make our program better."

KH: "What expectations do you have for parents of future recruits when you knock on that door and say, 'Come and play football at CU.' "

GB: "I expect a lot of questions, and if they don't bring them up then I'm going to bring them up. But I'm also going to bring up that we just went through four months of unbelievable scrutiny and we came through it. You can only do that if you have tremendous character and tremendous integrity. So one thing that you can be sure of -- if your son comes to the University of Colorado, he's going to be around coaches and players who have survived and endured."

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