HOUSTON (AP) -- When Gary Barnett was mired in scandal earlier
this year, the Colorado coach could always count on an encouraging
word from longtime friend Mike Price.
Price himself was just emerging from scandal, getting a second
chance at Texas-El Paso. So it was from experience that he told
Barnett to stay strong, that better days would be ahead.
This season worked out just fine for both of them -- so well that
they're capping it by coaching against each other Wednesday in the
Houston Bowl. UTEP (8-3), making its first bowl appearance in four
years, will go against Colorado (7-5).
"We're supporting each other 100 percent and we understood what
the other one was going through," Price said. "In a good way, we
kind of lean on each other."
Barnett's program was the target of sexual assault claims dating
to 1997, followed by an investigation that discovered sex, alcohol
and drugs were used as recruiting tools, although there was no
evidence that university officials sanctioned it. Then Barnett went
on three months of administrative leave for making insensitive
remarks about two accusers, including former kicker Katie Hnida who
said she was raped by a teammate in 2000.
The layoff kept him away from spring workouts. He was reinstated
May 28, and began building the foundation for a turnaround from a
5-7 finish in 2003. Colorado won its final three games of the
season to earn a share of the Big 12 North title, and Barnett was
voted the Big 12 coach of the year.
"Our team has really overcome so much to get where we are this
year," Barnett said. "Especially with us being a team that no one
picked to be anywhere near a bowl game at this point in time."
A few months after he was hired at Alabama, Price was fired for
allegedly spending a boozy night with strippers. He sat out a
season, then began his career makeover at UTEP, which had just six
wins over the previous three years and just three winning seasons
After a 1-2 start, Price led the Miners to seven straight
victories, their first-ever national ranking and first bowl berth
"I felt like we could have a winning season," Price said.
"Coming (to the Houston Bowl) is the greatest thing to happen to
our program in many, many years."
Barnett never doubted that his friend would re-emerge as a
"I know who he is and I know what he stands for," Barnett
said. "I was trying to let him know that those of us who know him
knew him through this whole ordeal. He did the same for me."
While both men prefer not to dwell on their struggles, Price
acknowledges that what's happened to them could help others.
"I think a lot of positive things will come about because of
this experience," Price said. "It's literally changing some
things in recruiting, some positive changes. There's nobody that's
going to be more by the rules and regulations than these two
This game will be the first time they've squared off since
becoming friends in 1978, when Barnett was a high school coach in
Colorado and Price was an assistant at Missouri.
Two previous games were scheduled, but neither panned out.
Barnett left Fort Lewis College before he could coach against
Price's Weber State team in the mid-1980s, and a game between
Colorado and Price's Washington State squad was canceled after the
terrorist attacks in September 2001.
"It's a thrill for him and a thrill for me," Barnett said.