He arguably runs his players harder than any other coach in the state. He dealt with a media scrutiny (before the scandal) unmatched by any other collegiate program in the region, and I find it very easy to believe that every once in a while Gary felt a kind of relation, even a kinship, with his players – enough so to turn his back once or twice on the same general activity the overwhelming majority of all college students have taken a part of for generations.
Not rape, mind you. I would be very surprised to learn that Barnett knew about or tried to cover up a players' involvement in a felony situation (particularly when the victim was a member of his team, talented or not). But the drinking and the strippers, two aspects of college life that most everyone on his team could at least partially be able to legally have an involvement with; that I could see Barnett closing his eyes to. What college coach doesn't?
Even in what is now considered his darkest hour; Tuesday's press conference in the wake of former female kicker Katie Hnida's accusations of being raped by a member of his team in 1999, the level of respect Barnett has for the current members of his team as football players and men is evident.
"…you can be 90 years old, but if you can go out and play, the guys will respect you…"
There's your barometer. Here's a guy being scrutinized from every angle by millions of people, sports fans or not, across the country and Barnett is trying his best to convey to a misunderstanding mass the special kind of relationship that exists between men in a collegiate football program. Granted, he said it in literally the same breath that he used to downplay the abilities of a former player making accusations of rape while still a member of the team, but if we try hard enough (and wince a little) we can see that his intentions were, at least, honest.
We'd be naïve to think that what may very well have ended Gary Barnett's career at CU isn't happening regardless of sport at universities (and even high schools) across the country. The difference, obviously, is that Gary and his staff have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. They are the acting martyrs for a wave of recruiting regulation which will inevitably follow in the years to come as a direct result of the events which have taken place over the past few weeks in Boulder.
I do believe that Gary Barnett loves his job. To think that he is malicious, mean-spirited, or even arrogant for saying what he did Tuesday is, in reality taking a short-sided point of view.
Actually, it's pretty clear that Barnett doesn't think he said or did a single thing wrong. Even though he is now retracting those Hnida statements and saying all the right things like a man desperate to keep his job. Like we all really believe he wanted Katie Hnida to be a part of the program, as he is now professing. He said it himself that he did not agree with President Betsy Hoffman's action taken to put him on "administrative leave" soon after his derogatory remarks.
What's going to be lost in this saga, if and when Barnett is eventually taken off his current ‘paid dismissal' and officially thrown into the ranks of the unemployed, is that Barnett's raw ability at his profession doesn't equal his passion.
Barnett is 78-82-2 in his 14 year college coaching career; by definition a mediocre football coach. The fact remains that the man has been responsible for just a handful of winning seasons in 14 years on the job, including three with CU ('99, '01, '02). It is easy to see how this happened at Northwestern in regards to losing seasons, but at Colorado the Buffs are expected to be, and should be in the upper echelon of the Big 12 almost every year. Not two out of five.
Can he build a program? Yes. Can he maintain a program? No. Barnett's year-to-year performance has been inconsistent at best. He has twice coached teams from the murky depths of horrible seasons (4-6-1; 1994 with Northwestern, and 3-8; 2000 with Colorado) to the success of a highly-visible bowl berth the following year (10-2 in 1995(Rose), and 10-3 in 2001(Fiesta). But in the seasons surrounding are campaigns with a spattering of results. This is unacceptable, again from a CU vantage point, from a man whose pay(1.6 million a year) is amongst the elite in the college coaching ranks.
In a game which, due to the yearly shifting of players is, in its very nature inconsistent. Barnett has proven that he is just as inconsistent. Even at a University like Colorado where there is more than adequate talent to draw from and salary available to attract above average coaches.
Furthermore, the ongoing scandal only brings to light another important criterion in judging the effectiveness of a head coach in any sport; the questions of just how much control the 57-year-old man has over his team. If Barnett really didn't know what was going on, he wasn't in control and can't be trusted with a major regional staple, like our beloved Buffaloes.
I do believe that Gary Barnett will eventually be fired. It will most likely happen following the currently ongoing internal investigation which will probably all but acquit him of any wrongdoing in the scandal, but the timing of his departure will feed the public assumptions that this whole thing was entirely his fault. Which is still up for debate if it was, or not.
Either way, Colorado fans deserve better than mediocrity.