Colorado's Barnett accepts buyout offer under pressure

Friday, December 9, 2005

A three-game losing streak proved to be the final nail for the embattled coach.

BOULDER, Colo. -- Gary Barnett reluctantly stepped down as football coach of Colorado on Thursday, accepting a $3 million settlement and ending a tenure that was riddled by off-the-field problems but ultimately done in by recent bad results on the field.

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 accept ... the decision."

Barnett pointed to a resume that includes a Big 12 Conference championship, several Big 12 North titles and conference honors as coach of the year.

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

Choking up and pausing, Barnett thanked his players and fellow coaches. He conceded he was disappointed in the decision and that as little as three weeks ago he was looking forward to a contract extension. Colorado, however, lost three straight games by a combined score of 130-22.

"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. said Barnett, 49-38 over seven seasons, will not coach the team in that game.

"I think we're sad to leave the university but he is willing and is accepting the decision by the university, to the extent that he has a voice in that issue, and they were good enough to come to us and talk to us about it," said Barnett's attorney, John Rodman.

Thus marked 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 and said "We all know this is a pretty fragile existence."

Nobody was more in touch with that than Barnett, an assistant at CU for Bill McCartney during the heyday of the 1990s, who went onto Northwestern and turned 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.

Still, his future looked secure with the strong start to this season and an apparently good relationship with Bohn, who was hired last spring to replace Dick Tharp.

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 apparently, the idea of handing over a new contract to a coach whose teams had been badly beaten over the last three games simply didn't seem plausible for Bohn.

Barnett would have been owed about $1.8 million if he had been fired, $1.6 as part of a backloaded performance clause in his contract and about $200,000 for next year's salary.

He wound up with an extra $1 million as a result of this week's negotiations -- meaning the cash-strapped school has to scrape up the dough to get rid of the coach who, in the oddest twist of all, found it was the performance between the lines, not outside of them, that proved his undoing.


Associated Press writer P. Soloman Banda in Denver contributed to this report.

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