Barnett needs to earn extension
This week, Colorado football coach Gary Barnett announced he would like to begin talking to Buffs officials about a contract extension.Barnett, who has two years remaining on his current extension which pays him roughly $1.6 million a year, spewed the typical spiel that those in his profession use when they’re looking to bring people to the negotiating table.A new extension would provide an assurance of stability in the program for recruits and current players, Barnett said. His staff could also feel better about their job security.What a load of Buffalo chips.The real reason Barnett wants to get something nailed down before the start of the season is because if his team struggles, it could be his last in Boulder.Even for an athletic department that is facing financial trauma like Colorado’s, buying out the remaining year on a contract isn’t too big of a hit. Buying out a multi-year deal like the one Barnett signed in 2002, however, is something that CU and new athletic director Mike Bohn can’t afford. If Barnett gets a new deal before the season, it would mean CU would be stuck with him for better or for worse. And, considering it’s likely worse for the immediate future, Bohn isn’t jumping at the opportunity to get something done.”I would hate (for anyone) to construe that as we’re just blowing it off,” Bohn told the Rocky Mountain News Tuesday. “It’s just not on the front burner.”Barnett, undoubtedly, is the winner of the more-than-three-year Survivor episode that has been the CU recruiting scandal. He held on to his job in the midst of resignations from athletic director Dick Tharp, president Elizabeth Hoffman and chancellor Richard Byyny.
After leading the Buffs to their third North Division title in four years last fall, he was named Big 12 Coach of the Year. Having met Bohn last month in an interview at the Vail Daily, it’s apparent he wants to give his football coach every opportunity to stay at Colorado. In a no-nonsense fashion that Colorado fans have quickly rallied around, the new boss said he’s in Barnett’s corner, flat out.Being in that corner, however, doesn’t mean that Barnett can pretend that he’s trudged through the mud of a headline-grabbing scandal and come out spotless.Or, that his record on the field overshadows those off-the-field stains.Bohn knows this, and appears to think that two years is job security enough. Right answer.There’s no sugarcoating the fact that the Buffs are in a hole. To get out of it, Barnett’s team needs to pack the stands.The new A.D., in an effort to sell tickets, has tried to shake more hands around the state since he was hired in April than Al Gore shook in Florida during the run-up to the 2000 election. He can’t, however, throw touchdown passes or deliver the kick-out block that breaks a long run.He also can’t call the plays or recruit the players that lead to those big plays and big wins.
That’s Barnett’s job. Judging by the fact that Colorado was in the bottom half of the Big 12 in attendance last season and posted its two lowest attendance figures ever for Big 12 games at Folsom Field, he can do a lot better.Yes, the Buffs won the North last year, but with a conference record of 4-4, it’s hard to say what they won – just what Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa State managed to lose.Also, Buffs fans weren’t too excited about the North crown after a 42-3 dismantling at the hands of Oklahoma in the conference championship – a prime-time butt kicking that looked more like a land-rush stampede than a football game.Bohn is aware that the current disparity between the conference’s two divisions is disconcerting for his department’s future. Some South schools have considered the option of seceding from the Big 12 when its TV contracts expire in 2007, which would mean CU and its North counterparts would be left in the cold. Knowing that, it’s apparent why this season is so critical, and why Barnett needs to deliver a winner. There’s reason to believe that Barnett would ask for an extension regardless of the circumstances – for better or for worse. Most coaches like to press the issue before the ink on their previous extension has dried.Don’t be fooled by the old, reliable recruiting shtick, however. It’s easy to read between the lines when looking at CU’s poor recruiting classes the past few years and Barnett’s 2-4 record in bowl games and see why he is getting antsy.A new deal means, win or lose, Barnett will be in Boulder for the duration of that extension and Bohn and CU officials would have their hands tied if they so desired to can him.
Which is why Bohn needs to stick to his own shtick, communicating that high-priority tasks like coming up with funding to improve the department’s finances are currently more important than a new contract for his coach.If Barnett wins the North again next fall, or at least improves on last year’s record and heads back to a bowl, then Bohn and CU’s staggering athletic department win, too. A new extension might be merited then. Also, if Barnett makes it to the end of his current contract, he gets a $2 million bonus – a just reward for his ability to survive a scandal that initially appeared to be a career killer.If Barnett and the Buffs struggle through a losing season, though, you can bet Bohn will be looking for a new football coach, and rightfully so.You can also bet he’ll be looking for someone whose corner Buffs fans can get in – most likely former Northern Colorado and current Wyoming coach Joe Glenn or the one that got away in 1999 before Barnett was hired, Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.That is, of course, if Broncos coach Mike Shanahan doesn’t lose his job before Barnett.But, that’s another column.Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado