Gary Barnett was the 22nd head football coach in University of Colorado history, compiling a record of 49-38 in seven seasons (1999-2005), with the 87 games and 49 wins both the sixth most in school history. In 168 Division I-A games at both CU and Northwestern, he was 84-83-1, and including two years at Fort Lewis (Colo.) College in the NAIA, he owns a 92-94-2 record in 16 years as a collegiate head coach.
At Colorado, he piloted the Buffaloes to four Big 12 Conference North Division titles (2001, 2002, 2004, 2005), as well as the league title in 2001. Colorado was 7-5 in his final season of 2005, with his 2001 and 2002 teams finishing No. 9 and No. 20 in the national rankings. He guided the Buffaloes to five bowl berths in his tenure, including the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl against Clemson. Barnett did not coach the Buffaloes in the Champs Sports Bowl has he stepped down from his post on Dec. 9, 2005, just over three weeks before the bowl game.
Twice honored as the Big 12 Coach of the Year by the Associated Press (2001, 2004), Barnett earned that honor four times in 14 seasons as Division I head coach, as he was also so honored at Northwestern in both 1995 and 1996.
Barnett was officially named the 22nd head football coach in CU history on January 20, 1999, returning to where he spent eight seasons as an assistant under Bill McCartney from 1984-91.
Colorado was 7-5 in 1999, his first season at the reins of the program, finishing third in the Big 12 North Division with a 5-3 mark. His second Buff squad finished 3-8, as a team riddled with injuries and youth managed to play well at times and had chances to realistically win at least six of the eight games it lost, including five against ranked teams. But his third CU team came on strong, winning its last four regular season games including a record-setting 62-36 win over Nebraska. That win gave CU a 7-1 record in the Big 12 North Division and earned the Buffs their first-ever appearance in the Big 12 Championship game, where a week later, Colorado defeated Texas, 39-37, to win its first league title since sharing the old Big Eight crown in 1991.
His first Buffalo team in 1999 was ranked 14th nationally in total offense, averaging 424.9 yards per game, and featured a pair of All-Americans in guard Brad Bedell and cornerback Ben Kelly. CU defeated a ranked team for the 12th straight year when it beat No. 24 Oklahoma, and lost games to No. 3 Nebraska and No. 6 Kansas State by a combined nine points.
The Buffs wrapped up his first season on a high note, as CU whipped No. 22 Boston College, 62-28, in the Insight.com Bowl. Colorado raced to a 45-7 halftime lead in setting numerous records en route to the win, dominating in all phases of the game as the final score would indicate.
His second CU team finished with a 3-8 record, including an 0-3 start with the losses by a combined 10 points, but it did lay the foundation for one of the greatest seasons in school history.
The 2001 Buffaloes opened with a 24-22 loss to Fresno State, which went on to have a great year, but CU bounced right back and ended a two-year losing streak to CSU with a convincing 41-14 victory, the first of five straight wins. Colorado reappeared in the national rankings five games into the year, eventually zooming to No. 3 in all major polls in earning a Fiesta Bowl berth against Oregon. Though the Buffs suffered a 38-16 loss to the No. 2 Ducks in the bowl, CU finished No. 9 in both polls, it's best finish since 1996. The 2001 team also boasted five All-Americans, including John Mackey Award winner Daniel Graham at tight end, and eight All-Big 12 performers, with Barnett a near-unanimous choice for the conference's coach of the year.
The 2002 Buffaloes overcame quite a bit of adversity to repeat at Big 12 North champions, none harder than a group of 18-to-22 year olds having to deal with the death of Tom McMahon, the team's popular co-defensive coordinator. The Buffs persevered after a 1-2 start to finish the regular season with a 9-4 mark, the school's best-ever record after dropping two of its first three games. High points included a 31-17 road win at UCLA, a thrilling 35-31 home win over Kansas State, and a 28-13 victory at Nebraska, CU's first win in Lincoln since1990. Two CU players earned All-America honors with four garnering All-Big 12 mention. Colorado came up short in its bid to become the first back-to-back Big 12 champions, falling to Oklahoma in the league's title game. In the Alamo Bowl, Wisconsin rallied for a 31-28 overtime win over the Buffs, as CU finished the year with a 9-5 record.
The combination of a youthful team at key positions and one of the nation's toughest schedules in 2003 played major roles in Colorado finishing 5-7. There were highlights, however: CU opened with an electrifying 42-35 win over rival Colorado State in Denver (literally speaking, as the game endured a half-hour lightning delay); the Buff defense came up big late in holding off UCLA for a 16-14 win; CU rallied and won its only overtime game of the season, 50-47, over Kansas; the Buffs gave No. 1 Oklahoma a run for its money before succumbing, 34-20; and a 21-16 win over No. 22 Missouri was Barnett's fifth straight win over his alma mater.
In 2003, he was one of four coaches who were finalists for the State Farm Eddie Robinson Coach of Distinction Award, which is presented to a coach for his football success, serving as a role model to his players and for service to his community. He was also a member of the coaching staff for the 2004 Hula Bowl in Maui.
He produced one of his best coaching jobs in 2004, as the Buffaloes overcame a tumultuous off-season. After a 3-0 start, CU slipped to 4-4 which included a 1-4 mark in Big 12 play; but the Buffs responded with wins over Kansas, Kansas State and Nebraska, two coming on the road, to rally to a 7-4 regular season mark and 4-4 in the conference. CU won a tiebreaker with Iowa State to win its third North Division title in four seasons, though succumbed to No. 2 Oklahoma 42-3 in the championship game in Kansas City. The league's beat media recognized him as their coach of the year, and the team went bowling for the fourth time in six years under Barnett's tutelage. The Buffs closed out the season with a 33-28 win over UTEP in the Houston Bowl, giving the team an 8-5 overall mark for the year.
Thanks to that 2001 season, Barnett joined a very select group of head coaches who have twice coached the NCAA Most Improved Team. At Northwestern, his 1994 team was 3-7-1; the '95 Wildcats posted a 10-2 record for an NCAA-best six game improvement. In 2001, Colorado tied for the top spot (also at plus-6), enabling him to join three coaching legends to accomplish the feat on two occasions: Paul "Bear" Bryant pulled it off at Kentucky (1946) and Texas A&M (1955); John McKay at Southern Cal (1962 and 1972) and Johnny Majors at Pittsburgh (1973) and Tennessee (1989). And remember-Barnett was also an assistant coach at Colorado in 1985 when the Buffs tied for the best-improved mark.
Barnett returned to CU in 1999 from Northwestern, where he had served as the Wildcats' head coach since 1992. He took over the Northwestern program on Dec. 18, 1991, after having worked eight seasons as running backs and/or quarterbacks coach in Boulder, the last one also as offensive coordinator.
In seven seasons at Northwestern, he compiled a 35-45-1 record, which included the outright Big Ten Conference title in 1995 and a shared championship in 1996. He took the Wildcats to their first bowl game in 47 years when the '95 team played USC in the Rose Bowl. His 1996 squad went to the Citrus Bowl, marking the first time Northwestern ever went bowling in back-to-back seasons.
In fact, Barnett led Northwestern to two of its first three bowl appearances in its school history, and coached the Wildcats to two winning seasons in his tenure (1995 and 1996), matching the school's total in its previous 31 seasons. NU was 10-2 in 1995, with an 8-0 mark in Big Ten play, and 9-3 in 1996, posting a 7-1 record in league action. He was named the Big 10 Coach of the Year both seasons, and he won 18 citations in all as the Big 10 and/or national Coach of the Year for 1995.
Northwestern was honored with the 1998 AFCA's Outstanding Academic Award, as the Wildcats boasted the nation's highest graduation rate for the class of 1992. All 22 of Barnett's recruits that year graduated, and all doing so in four years.
Northwestern made its first appearance in the national polls in 1995 since Dec. 6, 1971 under Barnett. The Wildcats were ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press and No. 7 in the USA Today/CNN (coaches) final polls that year, and were No. 15 in the AP and No. 16 in the USAT/CNN final ballots for 1996.
Barnett became the first Colorado head coach to come to Boulder from an immediate head coaching position in the college ranks since 1974, when Bill Mallory joined CU after spending five years as head coach at Miami, Ohio. Chuck Fairbanks came to CU in 1979 from the New England Patriots, Bill McCartney in 1982 from Michigan where he was defensive coordinator, and Rick Neuheisel was promoted in 1995 from within to succeed McCartney.
He got his start in the coaching profession at his alma mater, the University of Missouri. After lettering as a senior at wide receiver for legendary head coach Dan Devine, he graduated from MU with a bachelor's degree in social studies in 1969. He earned his master's in education from MU in 1971, working that spring as a graduate assistant under coach Al Onofrio.
Barnett moved to Colorado that summer and spent the next two years as offensive coordinator at Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs. He was named head coach at Air Academy in 1973, a position he held for the next nine years. At Air Academy, his teams reached the state semifinals twice (1980, 1981) and won six conference titles. He was considered one of the state's finest prep coaches before leaving the school to become head coach at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
He coached the Raiders for two seasons (1982-83), compiling an 8-11-1 mark. In 1982, he guided FLC to a 4-5-1 mark, its best record in five years, and his 1983 team finished 4-6. The 1984 team, made up of players primarily recruited by Barnett, won its first and only Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title in football.
McCartney brought Barnett into the Division I-A football ranks on February 20, 1984, naming him CU's running backs coach. A year later, when McCartney made the dramatic announcement that the Buffaloes would switch to the wishbone offense, Barnett coached the quarterbacks and fullbacks, a position he would hold throughout his remaining tenure as a CU assistant. On December 3, 1990, he was promoted to offensive coordinator after Gerry DiNardo resigned to become head coach at Vanderbilt. His first game as OC was in the 1991 Orange Bowl against Notre Dame, a 10-9 Colorado victory that enabled CU to win its first national championship in football.
During his eight seasons as an assistant coach at Colorado, he coached some very high profile players, most notably Lee Rouson, Eric McCarty, Mark Hatcher, the late Sal Aunese, George Hemingway, Erich Kissick, Kordell Stewart and the winningest quarterback in CU history, Darian Hagan. CU was 59-34-2 during his tenure as an assistant under McCartney, and in his last seasons at Colorado, the Buffaloes did not lose a Big Eight Conference game (going 20-0-1).
Northwestern was 3-8, 2-9 and 3-7-1 in his first three seasons in Evanston, with the 8-24-1 mark almost identical to McCartney's 7-25-1 in his first three years at Colorado before he turned around the fortunes of the CU program.
Barnett was born May 23, 1946 in Lakeland, Fla., and graduated from Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Mo. He is married to the former Mary Weil, and they have two grown children, Courtney and Clay. Courtney graduated from Northwestern in 1997 and Clay from Georgetown in 2000. An avid golfer and runner, he was the official starter for the 2000 Bolder Boulder. He is also active in local charity work, specifically the ALS and Lupus foundations.
In April 2005, he received the Marinus Smith Award as presented by the CU Parents Association to teachers, advisors and staff who have made a significant impact on the lives of undergraduate students.