It’s been a long time since Gary Barnett had to come up with a game plan or worry about giving a pregame speech before leading his team to the field.
Old habits are hard to break, however.
Now the color analyst for Colorado football radio broadcasts, Barnett, 73, gets some of the same feelings before a game that he did when he was coaching.
“I get nervous,” he said this week. “Two hours before, when the bus normally would arrive, I’m mentally arriving. We go on the air then, but the build up to it, on Friday I have a game face on. Saturday morning, everything is laid out, I know exactly where I’m going, what time I’m going to get there. I’m still playing each game; I’m still coaching each game, but I’m doing it upstairs.”
Barnett still brings the same passion to the game that he did as a coach, and it’s that passion that helped him carve out a Hall of Fame career.
On Thursday night, Barnett will be one of 10 CU legends inducted to the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. Half of the 2019 Hall of Fame class were associated with the football team.
Barnett was the Buffs’ head football coach from 1999-2005, leading them to a 49-38 record, the 2001 Big 12 championship, four Big 12 North division titles and five bowl games.
From 1984-91, he was an assistant for Bill McCartney. At different times, he coached the running backs, quarterbacks and fullbacks and served as offensive coordinator in 1991. CU enjoyed its greatest football success during those years, winning the national title in 1990, playing for the title in 1989 and playing in six bowl games.
Barnett helped to recruit and coach quarterbacks Sal Aunese and Darian Hagan.
“I think of just the good things that I’ve experienced and was a part of and how appreciative I have been and how much of a Buff I am,” Barnett said. “You have bad games and that kind of stuff, but all the great kids and great people that I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded by (mean the most).
“I got to see some amazing things. To go from the first time calling a game as a coordinator was the national championship game and then to win it; to go through the whole thing with Sal; and how low we were in 1984 to how we got to the very pinnacle in 1990, and probably got there in 1989. And then to come back (in 1999) and to be a part of what we had here, I’ve just had an unbelievable experience.”
Barnett’s coaching tenure at CU ended on sour note. A recruiting scandal rocked the program during his final four years and damaged his reputation. Although he was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, an ugly three-game losing streak to end the 2005 regular season gave CU administration justification to fire him at the end of that season.
To go from scandal to the Hall of Fame is quite a journey, but Barnett said he looks back at those years as moments of growth for him as a coach.
“I saw that as my greatest opportunity to lead,” said Barnett, who never coached after being fired by CU. “I was determined to show my coaches, and for our coaches to show our players, how you handle this situation. So I sort of took it in stride and felt it was just another opportunity to coach.”
Few were better at coaching than Barnett, who is starting to get used to the Hall of Fame thing. In 2015, he was inducted to the Northwestern Hall of Fame, where he coached from 1992-98. In 2018, he was inducted to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, honored by his home state, where he played quarterback in high school and receiver for the Missouri Tigers.
Adding the CU Hall of Fame to his list of accolades is significant to Barnett, who is in his fourth season working alongside Mark Johnson on KOA radio broadcasts.
“I never felt that I wasn’t a big part of the Buff community, I really didn’t,” he said. “But, to be sort of inserted back into it the way I have been has been awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s been so much fun and it’s so humbling to go in a Hall of Fame, and especially this one.”
A look at the other football inductees for the 2019 CU Athletic Hall of Fame class:
The longest-tenured assistant coach in CU history – for any sport – Cabral was a full-time assistant for 23 seasons, from 1990-2012. In all, he spent 24 years with the program, coaching some of the greatest linebackers in CU history. While he always coached the inside linebackers, Cabral had various other duties during his tenure and he worked under five head coaches, including Barnett. As a player, Cabral lettered three times at CU (1975-77) before a nine-year NFL career that included being the special teams captain of the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl XX championship team. Cabral returned to the CU program this season as a spiritual mentor.
Known as the “Father of CU football,” Folsom coached the Buffs for more years than anyone in history. He was 21 years old when he was hired in 1895 and spent 15 of the next 20 years coaching Buffs through three different stints (1895-99, 1901-02 and 1908-15) while also practicing law. His winning percentage (.765) is the best of any CU coach that spent more than one year leading the Buffs, and only McCartney won more games than Folsom, who went 77-23-2 and won led CU to nine conference titles. He also coached baseball for one year, taught law at CU until 1943 and developed the financial plan for a football stadium, which, in 1944, was named in his honor.
He had a stellar career at CU as a punter from 1984-87. Recruited to play quarterback and punter, he focused on his kicking after CU moved to the wishbone offense. He was a two-time consensus first-team All-American, in 1985 and 1986. He earned honorable mention 1987, making him one of only two players in CU history to earn All-American honors three times.
From 1946-49, Pudlik played baseball and football for the Buffs. For the football team, he was a four-year starter on offense and defense and earned All-Big 7 honors as a junior. During his career, he was one of the top receivers in the conference. He also kicked extra points. For the baseball team, he was a pitcher and once tossed a complete game win against Iowa State. In 1950, he turned down a $6,000 offer from the NFL’s Baltimore Colts to go into dairy farming. He died on March 30, 1999, at 72.