The Colorado Buffaloes knew the day would come when Larry Zimmer would be stepping away from the booth. After 42 years and many memories along the way, the task of replacing the broadcast legend seemed nearly insurmountable. That was until Athletic Director Rick George gave Gary Barnett a tour of the new Champions Center. As the two men walked around campus they discussed the future of CU athletics and the newly constructed facilities. The former coach instantly became impressed with the university's expansion and told George, "I really do want to be a part of this again."
Barnett realized the possibility of coaching the Buffs again in the future was unlikely. The next best way he could contribute would be taking over the soon-to-be vacant color commentator seat being left by Zimmer. George agreed and Barnett became enthused to know he would be returning to CU for a third time.
His time in Boulder started when he was hired as an assistant under Bill McCartney in 1984. Barnett has since traded in coaching for the opportunity to be a network broadcaster. The change in scenery helped fill the void after leaving CU for a multitude of reasons. The perks of traveling to different stadiums and experiencing games that he otherwise wouldn't be a part of while coaching, has kept Barnett occupied over the past decade. Overall, it's allowed him to maintain a knowledge and familiarity with the current game. The transition from national coverage to being a part of the Buffs broadcast team will give the audience a new prospective. Barnett respects and admires Zimmer for what he's done at CU.
"It's hard to replace a legendary guy", Barnett admitted. "You don't really replace him, you just sorta sit in his chair and try to do the best job you can. That's what I'm going to try to do."
Given Barnett's coaching background, he'll provide a different style apart from Zimmer's with more analysis toward the action on the field. It's uncommon to have a coaches prospective in the broadcast booth, especially during the game. Barnett will stay true with his coaching style as a commentator.
"As a coach, I think differently during the game and I see things a little bit differently than a color analyst that hasn't been a coach. I think I'm going to bring a little bit of a different angle to it and hopefully that's an angle people appreciate."
Coming back to Boulder is bittersweet for the former coach, but he's looking forward to being reintroduced to the program within a new conference. After taking over for Rick Neuheisel in 1999, his tenure as the Buffs head coach ended with a forced resignation following the controversy of sex abuse and recruiting scandals. In retrospect, Barnett felt his ousting from CU was based on a spur of the moment decision by the school's athletic administration.
"I do think there was a knee-jerk reaction by someone. Maybe it was Mike (Bohn), maybe it was someone else or a group of people."
The firing was just the start of the football program hitting rock bottom without any justification of wrongdoing. Investigations by the NCAA and Boulder's district attorney led to that conclusion. Two years after Barnett left the program, the NCAA placed the CU under probation along with a $100,000 fine for undercharging players for meals. It was the only punishment handed down during that time period. It's also a common misconception that Barnett was fired due to his comments about former female kicker Katie Hnida. The comments he made calling her "terrible" were sharply taken out of context by CNN and MSNBC.
"I think everybody thinks of me more about trying to describe a way we could help Katie Hnida, even though she wasn't up to par as an athlete."
Barnett felt misrepresented when it came to the situation with Hnida after the national news outlets butchered him.
"No matter how good or bad Katie was, we wanted her to be a part of the program. Nobody even saw the compassion that was there. As it was played out, it was an attack on me and thinking I was attacking a female athlete. Which had nothing to do with the situation at all. I wasn't doing that, but that's the way it got played out and that's the way I got portrayed."
If he were to do it over again, Barnett would have reserved his thoughts.
"Obviously, I would change those words and I wouldn't have said that and have them taken out of context the way they were."
Barnett kept his job after coming under harsh scrutiny and was shortly suspended for the comments.
Ultimately, the 70-3 loss against Texas in the 2005 Big 12 championship caused Bohn to overreact. Barnett believes under a different set of circumstances he would still be the head coach for the Buffs.
"We had gone through a really tough time and we pulled ourselves out of it and survived during that tough time. We won two North division titles and we were about to have a great class. I really believe that if they had not made the change, that I would still be there and would be in a pretty good position."
Barnett isn't dwelling on the past errors that cause the eventual downfall for CU's Football program. He's focused on repairing the damage from the past and doing the best job he can for KOA's broadcast with Mark Johnson. The first game for the future duo lands on Halloween at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. Barnett will move on to the next venture in his career and it's one he's hoping to hold down for a long time to come.