National and Big 12 Recap – 1999

With an undefeated campaign in 1999, the Florida State Seminoles claimed the title of “Team of the 90’s”. The Seminoles rang in the 2000’s with a 46-29 win over previously unbeaten Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. With the win, the Seminoles, led by quarterback Chris Weinke and receiver Peter Warrick, not only gave head coach Bobby Bowden his first-ever undefeated season, but claimed their second national title of the decade. Florida State never finished lower than fourth in any final poll in the decade, extending their string of top four finishes to a record thirteen seasons.

Only one other team completed the 1999 season unscathed, as the Thundering Herd of Marshall became the Tulane of 1999 with a 13-0 campaign. Led by quarterback Chad Pennington, Marshall finished 10th in the final poll after defeating BYU 21-0 in the Motor City Bowl.

Coach of the Year honors went to June Jones, who in one season turned 0-12 Hawai’i into a bowl winner. The Heisman Trophy was awarded to Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne, who eclipsed the career rushing mark set by Ricky Williams of Texas just a year earlier.

In the Big 12, six teams went bowling. A seventh team, Texas Tech, was eligible for a bowl bid at 6-5, but went uninvited.

Nebraska was the Big 12 champion, defeating Texas in the title game. The Cornhuskers went on to defeat Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, 31-21, to finish third nationally. Kansas State finished 11-1 and sixth overall after a 24-20 triumph over Washington in the Holiday Bowl.

Texas and Texas A & M completed the season ranked, 21st and 23rd, respectively, but both suffered bowl losses. Texas finished at 9-5 after falling, 27-6, to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, while A&M completed its season 8-4 after being shutout, 24-0, by Penn State in the Alamo Bowl.

Oklahoma returned to prominence with new head coach Bob Stoops, finishing 7-5 with a 27-25 loss to Mississippi in the Independence Bowl. Colorado also ushered in a new head coach, Gary Barnett, completing its 1999 season at 7-5 with a convincing 62-28 win over Boston College in the Bowl. Neither Oklahoma nor Colorado, however, made the final rankings.

Gary Barnett

On Wednesday, January 20, 1999, Gary Barnett was introduced as the 22nd head football coach for the University of Colorado.

Thought early on to be the most likely replacement for the departed Rick Neuheisel who abruptly left the school after an Aloha Bowl victory over Oregon, Barnett and Colorado athletic director Dick Tharp apparently had trouble coming to terms with the buy-out clause of the long term contract Barnett had at Northwestern.

With Barnett seemingly out of the picture, Denver Bronco offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak emerged as Colorado’s choice. A press conference was scheduled for Monday, January 18th to announce the hiring of Kubiak. After Denver defeated the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game to advance to the Super Bowl, however, Kubiak balked.

Colorado reacted quickly, as the 1999 football recruiting class, already tenuous with the timing of Neuheisel’s departure, now risked the possibility of total disintegration. Two days later, on January 20th, the announcement was made that Barnett had been hired as the Buffs’ head coach.

“I’m pleased”, announced Tharp, “to bring forward to the Board (of Regents, who had to approve Barnett’s contract) an individual who is deeply committed to young people and the University of Colorado.”

Barnett’s career record of 43-56-2, which included a record of 35-45-1 at Northwestern, did not appear impressive. That is, though, until it was noted that Northwestern had been 38-182 in the 20 seasons prior to Barnett’s arrival. Barnett, a McCartney assistant from 1984-91, had coached both high school and small college football in Colorado before joining McCartney’s staff.

Barnett’s reaction to the hiring was that he felt he was “coming home”. Barnett reminded everyone at his introductory press conference that he had not originally intended to leave Colorado for Northwestern in 1992. “Why would I have gone to Northwestern if Mac hadn’t signed a contract for 15 years?”, said Barnett, “I was in the catbird’s seat at that time. I never thought Mac would leave.”

Barnett was now home, but there were immediate concerns, not the least of which was salvaging a recruiting class and ingratiating himself to his new team.


Initial reaction to the hiring of Gary Barnett as the new CU head coach was generally favorable.

Some continuity for the returning players was ensured as Barnett kept three coaches from Neuheisel’s staff – Brian Cabral, Tom Cable, and Jon Embree – while two of his four first hirings for other assistants also boasted CU ties, John Wristen and Vince Okruch. “I see his picture in the national championship picture in the football office,” noted cornerback Ben Kelly. “I’m sure he knows what it takes to get to that level.”

Barnett also endeared himself to the alumni with two comments in his first press conference. First, in playing off of his “coming home” comment, Barnett noted, “I also realize that coming home means not losing to Nebraska.” This was sweet music to the ears of the faithful, who had witnessed Colorado going 2-0-1 against the Cornhuskers in Barnett’s last three years in Boulder, but 0-7 since his departure.

Barnett also gave the Buff Nation its new catch-phrase for the upcoming year.

The Regional Transportation District in the Denver area is known as the RTD. Playing off of this, Barnett announced that for the 1999 season, the Buffs’ motto would be RTD, which for Colorado football would stand for “Return to Dominance”.

This is just what Buff fans, spoiled by so much success in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, wanted to hear.

All that was left now was for Barnett to do was to come through and deliver on his pledge.

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