Jon Saraceno's Dec. 13 USA Today "Keeping Score" column is entitled "Did Colorado Get Buffaloed by Barnett?" Seems like everybody wants to take out after Gary Barnett, the former Colorado football coach, who left the university recently under a cloud and with a $3 million bracer of a buyout. Until all the facts are in, Barnett remains a somewhat elusive and slick-demeanored dude who no doubt will wind up coaching elsewhere, barring revelations of gross and unforgivable scandal in the CU football program.
What's funny to me is the general opinion that Barnett (left) invented scandal at Colorado. Doesn't anyone remember Bill McCartney? Chicago sportswriter Rick Telander wrote a book years ago, The Hundred Yard Lie: The Corruption of College Football and What We Can Do to Stop It (1989), which detailed bad behavior all over the college football landscape and had special material related to McCartney's Colorado program, which harbored the same sex and alcohol issues Barnett is now accused of overlooking on his watch. Barnett's immediate predecessor, Rick Neuheisel, had similar problems as well.
So I guess I'd have to say, "No, Colorado wasn't buffaloed by Barnett." It looks to be business as usual as far as I can see. Besides, let's be honest: The only thing wrong with coaches who get pilloried for financially cooking the books or overlooking athletes' moral turpitude is that they've gotten caught. I have no idea if Barnett is responsible for malfeasance. He's managed to talk his way out of things so far, adopting a "Who, me?" stance that's proved effective.
Allegations have swirled. There's currently an investigation under way into the money issues surrounding Barnett's summer camps at CU. Plus, there's been past accusation that some of his players have been less than gentlemanly toward coeds. I guess the issue there is this: If he knew he had womanizing creeps on his team, why didn't he dismiss them? Who knows exactly what was swept under that rug, but Barnett escaped indictment. The players he kept around were good enough to win at a satisfactory level, and ironically enough, if Barnett's team hadn't been blown out two weeks ago by Texas, 70-3, in the Big 12 Conference championship game, he might still even be around. It would appear that the school's administration took losing the big game as the signal to oust the head coach. Which in a way makes them as strangely manipulative as Barnett. The cloud that surrounded Barnett certainly red-flagged his undoing, but he may yet walk out from under it unscathed.
Funny how no one thought of him as anything but a savior 10 years ago, when he took Northwestern to two straight postseason appearances, including the Rose Bowl. Northwestern had been in the throes of years of losing before his arrival. At a school where academic standards are seriously high, and recruiting against football factories like Ohio State and Michigan is nigh impossible, Barnett took young men who actually might qualify as "student-athletes," instilled them with pride and stressed teamwork, and made a rather modern miracle out of a pathetic, seemingly hopeless situation. There was one blip: an accusation of point-shaving. Well, if coaches are father figures and all that, even the good father might not know he's got a son who's consorting with gamblers. True, Barnett was always seeming to be on the verge of leaving Northwestern, and he played it coy and cagey as outside schools came a-calling. In their heady exultation that Barnett proved that their team could play with the big boys, overearnest Wildcat fans probably forgot that college football is a business. Never mind all the folderol about loyalty and such—Barnett did a great job at Northwestern, a program about which it was said it could never be done.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of his CU tenure was the case of Katie Hnida, a female placekicker trying to make the Buffs roster. In a very dark episode, Hnida claimed she was raped by a teammate. No doubt this situation was a huge burr under Barnett's saddle. We don't really know exactly what Barnett knew and when he knew it. But we do know that he sent an e-mail to the CU athletic director and inquired whether he should divulge what he knew of Hnida's promiscuity, presumably to throw some glaring light on the poor girl and an equal amount of suspicion on the propriety of her accusation. Did he have a point? Who knows.
But we do know that the school suspended Barnett in 2004 after he said of Hnida, "Not only was she terrible, she was a girl." This sounds harsh, I suppose, but if Hnida was terrible, possibly Barnett was responding to the notion that he felt politically bound to give her a shot, even when he knew the situation looked like nothing more than a publicity stunt. In stating that she was a girl, we can only conclude that Barnett was telling the truth as well. Sorry, folks, but big-time college football is still the domain of young, brawny men. Girls might break into the ranks someday, but should Barnett be attacked when he knew Hnida was a fish out of water?
No, we don't come to praise Barnett; maybe only to bury him for the time being. His resurrection is virtually assured. Anyone remember Mike Price, the guy hired to be Alabama's head coach a couple of seasons ago, who was caught consorting with hookers at a Gulf Coast resort the summer before his first season even got launched with the Crimson Tide? Yep, that was embarrassing to all concerned. Alabama dumped him almost immediately, so shocked were they by the revelations. Well, don't look now, but Mike Price, now head coach of the UTEP Miners, takes his 8-3 squad into Mobile, Ala., for a Dec. 21 date in the GMAC Bowl against Toledo. (Here's betting he'll know where to go to celebrate should his team emerge victorious.)
College football is a cesspool of hypocrisy, and anyone who claims otherwise has blinders on. For guys like Barnett, it's a game of survival. He seems to play it pretty well, but maybe the summer camp audit will prove otherwise. Somehow I doubt it.
One last journalistic salvo by way of a note to Mr. Saraceno, whose Barnett story includes the following sentence: "When you're paid the kind of scratch Barnett was, the level of scrutiny and accountability is equally as high." Dear Jon: Are you aware that it is wholly incorrect to say "equally as high"? "Equally" and "as" are redundant in your construction. The correct statement would read: "...the level of scrutiny and accountability is equally high." Never mix your adverbs and conjunctions that way, dude. It's really bad writing. What's amazing is that your editor didn't catch it, either. Which only proves that incompetence is everywhere, even where you least expect it.