Coach leads Buffs to Big 12 North title

Updated: November 30, 2004, 4:19 PM ET
Associated Press

BOULDER, Colo. -- Nine months after he was suspended by his own school, Colorado coach Gary Barnett was named Associated Press Big 12 Coach of the Year on Tuesday after leading his troubled program to the conference title game.

The Buffaloes (7-4) took the Big 12 North title by winning their last three games and getting a little help. They will play No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday for the championship.

Colorado has posted a startling turnaround since the program was hit by a sex and recruiting scandal last spring.

The school suspended Barnett over comments he made related to the controversy, and many thought he might lose his job. Instead, athletic director Dick Tharp resigned and the school made sweeping changes to its football recruiting policies and how it oversees the athletics department.

Whatever happens against the heavily favored Sooners, Colorado will have a season to be proud of.

After starting 3-0 in non-conference play, Colorado lost four of five to start the Big 12 season and looked absolutely lost in a 31-7 loss to Texas. But Colorado rallied for a come-from-behind 30-21 win at Kansas, a 38-31 victory over Kansas State and a 26-20 win at archrival Nebraska last week.

Four losses was not bad enough to keep Colorado from the Big 12 North title, though it needed Missouri's victory over Iowa State last Saturday to sew things up. Colorado will be in the Big 12 title game for the third time in four years -- and this one comes after an offseason the team would like to forget.

In May, an independent investigative panel said it believed drugs, alcohol and sex were used to entice recruits, though the practice was not condoned by university officials. It singled out Barnett and Tharp for criticism, suggesting both were reluctant to make changes.

Barnett was put on leave for three months after criticizing a former player who says she was raped by a teammate and for allegedly saying he would back a player accused of assaulting a university employee. Still, the coach was reinstated after employees and others backed him to school officials.

The school isn't out of the woods yet: It is still looking for Tharp's replacement and recently reported possible violations to the NCAA involving booster money. The school, working with the state auditor's office, has started an audit of the Dear Old CU Fund and a summer football camp run by Barnett.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press