Gary Barnett Era Ends at Colorado

The Gary Barnett Era is officially over at Colorado. Athletic director Mike Bohn informed Barnett, coach at CU since 1999, on Wednesday he intended to fire Barnett and gave Barnett the option to resign, which Barnett took. Barnett will receive a $3 million settlement as part of his resignation.

In front of roughly 50 media members and dozens more somber athletic department personnel in a room at the Coors Event Center, Mike Bohn said, "We informed Gary we were going to make a change, and Gary stepped down."

Bohn said the department will come up with $3 million the two sides settled on as a buyout from revenue from the 12th football game on the slate in 2006, and possibly the 12th game in subsequent years. It was widely believed and reported that Barnett's buyout cost would be between $1.8 million-$2 million.

It's unclear exactly how the two sides came up with the $3 million number, but Bohn called it "fair."

"As athletic director I believe it is imperative that we honor our contractual obligations and I feel like we've done that," he said.

A press release by the university said the financial agreement would "satisfy all agreements of the last contract (Barnett) signed with the school in 2002." Barnett's contract was scheduled to end in July 2007.

Barnett indicated it was his preference to stay at CU, but said he respected Bohn's decision.

"Mike Bohn was given leadership in the athletic department," he said. "With leadership comes a lot of responsibilities. Some of those responsibilities are making tough decisions."

Barnett continued, "I respect that decision, I did not like that decision, I did not resign my position, but I wholeheartedly respect the responsibility and the decisions that leaders have to make. And Mike felt like he had to make this decision."

Barnett followed Rick Neuheisel at CU as head coach seven seasons ago.

"I've had the awesome experience to be around some really special people in the seven years that I've been fortunate enough to be the head coach here," Barnett said. "Most of you don't get the chance to be around the Dal Ward Center, but that staff and those coaches and those players …are the most special people that I could ever encounter.

"I'm very proud of the young men in our program right now, especially the ones that have had to endure scrutiny over the last two years. They've gotten beyond everything and still gotten our team into two championships."

And there, perhaps, was the rub when it came to Barnett. He survived a media-fueled scandal that erupted first in the wake of an 2001 off-campus party — days after CU's 2001 Big 12 title win —where a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by football recruits. Despite the off-field turmoil that followed the team the past two seasons, the Buffs won the right to play for the Big 12 title.

Once there, however, Colorado lost badly in 2004 and ‘05, by a combined score of 112-6.

After going 7-2 through October this fall, the Buffs lost their final three games by a combined score of 130-22.

Both parties said a contract-extension negotiation was first broached just over a month ago. Barnett said the late-season on-field collapse may have in part been due to the contract talks becoming a distraction.

"The team has been overly concerned, very concerned about an extension," Barnett said. "I think they felt a responsibility to get me an extension and I think that we just ran out of juice. I think the well ran dry and there's no other answer than that as far as I can tell."

When asked why he thought he was fired, Barnett said it wasn't his right to question why.

Bohn was more forthcoming, but said it wasn't one factor which caused the dismissal.

"It really came down to a sense of where are we as a program, and how fast can we escalate the growth of the program," he said. "In my opinion, that has to do with new leadership. …It really was time for a change.

"Similar to a final exam, a lot of things were revealed in the last month, on many, many fronts. It became clear to me that the way for us to move forward was to make a change. It was really interesting that that was how it transpired."

Bohn and much of his staff has worked tirelessly on marketing the athletic programs since his arrival in April. Much focus has gone into football, since it's the biggest moneymaker in the department and financially supports the bulk of the rest of the sports.

Along with running a football team, a major college football head coach wears several other hats, none of which include alienating fans. Some inside the athletic department were stunned when Barnett made negative comments reported in a Daily Camera story about fans who would question his or offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's playcalling midway through the season.

Bohn was asked several times if the aftereffects of the so-called scandal played into his decision. Each time, Bohn played down that as having a role in his decision.

"It is our goal to be a perennial top 20 team," Bohn said. "That's our goal and that's our expectiation. Our expectations are high here, but our expectations are based on the fact that we've got great fans, a tremendous student body and a great environment. Obviously, we're committed to improving that and that's ultimately why we made the decision to move in the direction that we're headed in."

Barnett met with his players late this afternoon. Barnett termed it a "one-way" conversation, but said he hoped to talk to more of them individually Friday.

Reports of several players being upset with the news following the team meeting were plenty. Bohn spoke emphatically about his concern for the players as a search is made for Barnett's replacement.

Bohn and Barnett didn't seem on the same page when it came to who would coach the players in the Dec. 27 Champs Sports Bowl. CU will face Clemson in that game.

Barnett said Bohn gave him the opportunity to coach the bowl game, but Barnett said, "At this point in time I don't want to make a decision at an emotional moment. I told Mike that I don't think I'm going to do it, and I'll probably leave it at that right now."

Bohn later said it was his understanding Barnett had said "no" to coaching in the game. Bohn said one of his immediate priorities was figuring out which assistant coach will take over the duties for the bowl game.

He also said a search committee will be formed shortly, and that a search officially began Wednesday. The committee is expected to include Vice-Chancellor Phil DiStefano and some faculty members. Chuck Neinas, regarded as the best headhunter for college coaching positions, has been retained as a consultant.

Bohn would not offer any names, and said no candidates had been officially contacted.

Barnett leaves CU with a 49-38 record at the university, as well as four North Division titles and one conference crown. Barnett, 59, said he intends to coach again.

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