Former Head Coach Gary Barnett Has Plenty to Say About the Head Coaching Job at Colorado

November 11, 2010 – 7:30 am by Michael Bean

The Dan Hawkins era is finally over in Colorado. After four and a half losing seasons in Boulder, the Buffaloes will look elsewhere for leadership atop their football program as the university gets set to join the PAC-10 conference in 2011. Hawkins’ teams failed to compile a winning record once in his four full seasons. Including this year’s 3-6 record, Hawkins amassed a win-loss record of 19-39 at Colorado, with a conference mark of just 10-27.

Longtime assistant coach Brian Cabral takes over on an interim basis, but it’s a safe bet that Colorado will fill the job with someone else before next year’s move to the Pac-10. Who might that next coach be? Well, an interesting possibility is Bill McCartney, a national championship winning coach at CU who served as the CEO of the program between 1982-1994. Times have changed, so who knows if McCartney, who is now 70 and has been out of football since 1994, would still be able to have similar success, but all signs point to him being very much interested in the job. Another former head coach, Gary Barnett, thinks the possibility is real, and he’s of the school of thought that believes hiring a former head coach is a safer bet than going with an unproven guy that’s never risen higher than the coordinator ranks.

Barnett joined ESPN 1600 in Denver to talk about the head coaching vacancy at Colorado in the wake of Hawkins’ firing, the possibility of Bill McCartney being re-hired as head coach, whether or not he’s been contacted by potential candidates looking for information and opinions about the gig, how difficult it is for coaches to match expectation levels when the university is not willing or interested to make the commitments necessary to build a top-flight program, why it’s unrealistic to think that CU could lure away a coach like Les Miles who has infinite resources at LSU compared to what he’d have in Boulder, and the gamble of hiring a guy like Eric Bieniemy who’s not only been a head coach, but not even held a coordinator’s position yet.

On if he thinks it would be a good move for the university to hire former Buffs coach Bill McCartney:

“You know, I’m not in position to make those types of calls. I do believe Mac is very interested and I know just from reading and listening, there’s a lot of people who would like to do that. So that’s going to be Mike Bowen and the Stefano’s call. Everybody knows how much respect I have for Mac. Whether he’s the right guy at this point in time, who knows, but he is interested and he’s got a proven track record, and probably would pull a lot of the state together.”

On if he’s been contacted by any potential candidates for the job that are interested in gathering information about the job, university, etc:

“No I haven’t and I don’t expect to…well let me put it this way, I’ve been contacted by people who are interested in working at Colorado. And maybe one that’s interested in being a head coach. I think probably once they pair down and actually have conversations with coaches, then I may or may not get a call. But I would imagine if somebody is doing due diligence, they may call a number of us who were former head coaches there just to find out the climate – unless they’re already familiar with it. Mac’s not going to give me a call about what it’s like there. But there will be some other guys, and guys you know in the business might being a candidate in one form or another, either as an assistant or as a head coach.”

On the disconnect between the level of commitment between the university and ever-rising expectations:

“Yeah, but there’s a disconnect there. There’s a disconnect between what it takes to compete at that level and what’s being done. I think what happens is nationally, on the outside, people perceive CU and Boulder to be like it is in Oklahoma, like it is in Nebraska, like it is in places where we have defeated programs and played for National Championships and played for league championships. And in reality, we’ve scratched along and found a way to be competitive on those levels without having that same sort of culture and environment that other people have. And as long as that culture and environment doesn’t change and remains the same, then it’s going to be a constant scratch and claw. Yeah, there’s a disconnect between those that want and what the university is willing to do. And as long as it stays that way, there’s going to be this constant set of expectations that are unrealistic for any coach that goes in there. And that’s what’s really hard – on the outside the expectations are one thing, on the inside the expectations are something else. But you only hear the ones on the outside, and those end up being negative when the job gets harder to do and more complicated to do than you can perform or accomplish.”

On why it’s so hard to put together a good staff of assistants (short-term contracts, less money, etc):

“Well it’s not challenging getting those coaches here, but once they get here and realize the expectations that are put upon them and the resources that they actually have, and then they’re on a month-to-month contract…they’re not even on a year-to-year contract, they’re on a month-to-month…so they have absolutely no security. And then what happens is they get persuaded to go to other places with two and three year contracts. It just makes it difficult to maintain a staff. It’s not hard to get them there, it’s hard to maintain it once they’re there and realize the complications of the job there.”

On if he thinks it’s worth it to pick up the phone and try to lure Les Miles away from LSU:

“Not in my opinion, but that and a dollar and fifty cents will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. (Editor’s note:  What Starbucks has coffee for only $1.50?) No, I was just with Les last week and he’s got one of those places that everybody wants to try to get to. He’s got huge expectations, and they don’t like necessarily the way he does this or that. But the guy’s record is impeccable, and he’s got a large amount of money and he can hire as many guys as he wants, and give them as many years on their contracts as he wants. You know, it’s just a different culture and a different environment.”

On Eric Bieniemy as a possible candidate, and on the potential risk of hiring somebody without head coaching experience like him:

“Well really, anybody you hire that hasn’t been a head coach, because it’s not just one step from being a coordinator to being a head coach, it’s three. Even if you’re a coordinator which Eric has not been, if you’re a coordinator, you’ve at least organized other coaches, you’ve at least been responsible for half of the football team. When you become a head coach, you’re responsible for everything. As a coordinator you don’t deal with the politics, you don’t deal with the inner-workings, you don’t even know what’s going on; you don’t even know who most of the people are that are in the administration. So it’s a big leap, it’s a huge leap. And anytime you hire someone that’s been a coordinator, or even further down that hasn’t been a coordinator, it’s a crap shoot. But hiring a coach is a crap shoot anyway. It’s just how big a risk do you really want to take.”

Listen here to Barnett on ESPN 1600 in Denver with Vic and Gary

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