Barnett forced out; receives $3 million settlement

Updated: December 9, 2005, 8:55 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

BOULDER, Colo. -- Gary Barnett is out as football coach of Colorado.

On Thursday, he reluctantly accepted a $3 million settlement, bringing to an end a tenure that was riddled by off-the-field problems but ultimately done in by recent bad results on the field.

The school named defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz interim coach Friday and said he will coach the team in the Champs Sports Bowl.

In a news conference he wanted to be a part of, Barnett said the decision was made by athletic director Mike Bohn.

"In the last 24 hours, Mike has made a decision to change the football coach at the University of Colorado," he said. "I respect that decision, I didn't like that decision -- I didn't resign my position -- but I wholeheartedly respect the responsibility and decisions leaders have to make. Mike felt like he had to make this decision."

There is no news yet on a possible successor but ESPN's Jim Donnan has been told that Bohn may have his sights on Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe. Grobe was linebackers coach at Air Force when Bohn was an assistant athletic director at the school.

Possible Successors to Barnett
Name Current school Position
Dan Hawkins Boise St. Head coach
Tom O'Brien Boston College Head coach
*David Gibbs Auburn Defensive coordinator
*Jon Embree UCLA Tight ends coach
Charlie Strong Florida Defensive coordinator
Randy Shannon Miami Defensive coordinator
Jim Grobe Wake Forest Head coach
* -- Colorado alumnus
Courtesy: ESPN.com's Pat Forde and ESPN's Jim Donnan

Barnett, who finished 49-38 in seven seasons at CU, pointed to a résumé that includes a Big 12 Conference championship, four Big 12 North titles and two AP Big 12 Coach of the Year honors.

"I would deem that a success. Other people might not," he said.

Bohn, who took to the microphone after Barnett left the room, said the coaching search would begin immediately. Knowing how crucial this time of year is for recruiting, he looked toward the cameras and emphasized that CU is a great place to play.

"The University of Colorado is a gold mine ... and we're going to work our tail off to bring a great coach to this program to match the academic standing of this institution," Bohn said. "That will be my sole focus."

The new athletic director said he couldn't pin his decision to part ways with Barnett on a single reason. He insisted that to say he made it because of the team's current three-game losing streak, during which Colorado has been outscored 130-22, "would be erroneous."

Still, the AD conceded the program appeared to have lost some luster and confidence over the past month.

"A lot of things were revealed in the last month on many, many fronts," Bohn said. "And it became clear to me it was time to make a change."

As recently as last month, Barnett said he had felt secure about his future with the Buffs. He had been talking about a contract extension. A 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game last Saturday ended all that talk and essentially sealed his fate.

"It's pretty simple. We lost," he said. "I think our team has been overly concerned about a contract extension ... We ran out of juice, the well went dry."

The Buffs (7-5) will face Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 27.

Cornerback Terrence Wheatley said he was disappointed and wanted Barnett to coach in the bowl game. Tight end Quinn Sypniewski called Barnett's dismissal a "tragedy" and that the coach was upset when he told his team the bad news.

"He was upset. He spoke with emotion and with passion," Sypniewski said.

Barnett Timeline
Gary Barnett

1982-83: Head coach at Fort Lewis, Durango, Colo.
1984-1991: Assistant to Colorado head coach Bill McCartney
1992-98: Head coach at Northwestern, Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1995, 1996
1999: Named 22nd head coach at Colorado
2001: Colorado wins Big 12 championship, Barnett named Big 12 Coach of the Year
2002: Colorado wins Big 12 North Division championship
2004: Scandal erupts amid allegations that Colorado used sex and alcohol to recruit football players. Barnett is suspended, then reinstated over disparaging remarks attributed to him about a female player. Multiple investigations end with no sex-related criminal charges. A report criticizes Barnett for lax oversight of players but says he did not condone improper practices.
2004: Colorado wins Big 12 North Division championship, Barnett named Big 12 Coach of the Year
2005: Colorado wins the Big 12 North Division championship, loses to Texas 70-3 in the conference championship game
2005: Forced out as Colorado's coach, accepting a $3 million buyout.
-- The Associated Press

CU Regent Michael Carrigan said Barnett's resignation was the best decision for both the coach and the university.

"We've implemented recent changes, but it's important to have a change in personnel to really make the reforms lasting," he said. "Performance issues both on the field and off the field led us to believe it was a good decision."

Cindy Carlisle, another member of the Board of Regents, said Thursday evening that the amount of the settlement was concerning for a school facing many financial problems.

"There were many reasons on field and off that warranted dismissal," Carlisle said. "But not with a payout like this. We can't afford it. The amount to me is incomprehensible."

Carlisle outlined the qualities she believes the board would like to identify in the next coach.

"Integrity," Carlisle said. "Leadership. An ability to engage with players and help move them forward in academics and in life."

Gov. Bill Owens, who had insisted the university get a grip on things during the 2004 scandal, had no specific comment on Barnett.

"He [Gov. Owens] trusts university President Hank Brown and the Board of Regents to do the right thing," deputy press secretary Mark Salley said.

The decision ended a fairly rapid -- though not all that stunning -- reversal for Colorado, which appeared ready to offer Barnett a contract extension as recently as a month ago.

The coach said he pretty much thought the extension was a done deal when the Buffs began the season 7-2 and appeared to be rolling toward their fourth Big 12 North title in five years.

Many figured it was only a matter of a state audit of Barnett's football camps, due out next Monday, that was holding things up.

Things changed, though, as Colorado ended up winning the division title, but backed into it without winning another game. After a humiliating 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game last Saturday, Barnett conceded he didn't know why his team had been unable to recover from a loss to Iowa State three weeks earlier that started the losing streak.

"It wasn't the off-field allegations that got him," a friend of Barnett's told ESPN's Joe Schad on Thursday. "It was 70-3 [the score against Texas]. It was what happened in the last three games. He all but had his new contract."

Barnett began as an assistant at CU for Bill McCartney during the heyday of the 1990s, before moving onto Northwestern and turning that lagging program around.

He was brought to Colorado, ironically, to help spruce up the image of a program that had earned something of a renegade status under Rick Neuheisel.

At first, Barnett was successful. By the end, though, he found himself in the center of a sordid recruiting scandal, which resulted in an investigation that concluded drugs, alcohol and sex were used to entice recruits to the Boulder campus, though none of practices were sanctioned by university officials.

No charges were filed, but Barnett got into further trouble when he used derogatory terms in talking about kicker Katie Hnida, who came out with allegations that she was raped by a teammate in 2000. Barnett was suspended by the school in the spring of 2004 and had restrictions placed on his recruiting, which have since been eased.

When Barnett returned from his suspension, he still had his job, but the president, chancellor and athletic director were all soon gone.

Now, it's a clean sweep, though Barnett said he has nothing to be ashamed of.

"We withstood every piece of scrutiny," Barnett said. "We held our heads up high and came out of this thing clean."

He appeared to have a good relationship with Bohn, who commended the coach as a consummate professional.

But the inability to get the contract extension done -- Barnett changed agents just a few weeks ago -- left both parties in an awkward situation.

Barnett couldn't legitimately recruit with only a year left on his deal; no players want to play for a lame-duck coach. CU, on the other hand, couldn't really afford to pay Barnett what it would cost to buy him out, then fork out more to hire a new coach.

But the school will have to.

Bohn said the $3 million Barnett will receive will come largely from extra revenue generated by the 12th game, which all Division I schools will start playing next season.

"It's important to respect and honor our contractual obligations," Bohn said.

Players, not surprisingly, were stunned and a little dismayed by the decision. Barnett addressed them in an emotional meeting before his news conference.

"I was part of his first recruiting class," Sypniewski said. "I think it's a tragedy to see him go out the way he is."

But Tom Lucero, a member of the school's Board of Regents, said Barnett had become emblematic of the scandal surrounding the football program.

"It's not necessarily fair at times," he said. "But a change certainly can bring fresh air to the university."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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