December 8, 2005 Gary Barnett Out as Colorado Head Coach

December 16, 2005 Dan Hawkins In as Colorado Head Coach

The rumors had been swirling since the end of the Texas game. A contract extension for Colorado head coach Gary Barnett, thought to be a virtual done deal just weeks earlier, was now a virtual impossibility. An extension and a raise for a coach whose team had been embarrassed on national television two weeks in a row? An extension for a coach whose teams had been mired in scandals for the past two seasons? How could an extension be justified with the black cloud which had hung over Boulder growing darker instead of lighter?

Colorado Athletic Director Mike Bohn did not have the benefit of time to make a decision. The 2006 recruiting class was in limbo, with only ten commitments made. The Colorado class was rated last in the Big 12 by the recruiting websites. If Barnett was to stay, the extension needed to be finalized. If Barnett was to go, it needed to be done quickly.

Bohn opted for the latter course.

The story was old news by the time the press conference was convened on Thursday night after the Big 12 title debacle. The only surprise of the press conference, covered live on television ESPNews and Fox Sports Rocky Mountain, was that it was led off by Barnett himself. Rarely does the ousted coach show up at his own funeral, but there was Barnett, defiant to the end.

First and foremost, Barnett wanted it made clear that he did not resign as Colorado’s head coach. “I didn’t like the decision,” Barnett said. “I did not resign my position, but I wholeheartedly respect the responsibility and the decisions that leaders have to make.” Bohn, for his part, thanked Barnett “for his contribution to the University of Colorado. Gary’s a real professional and he did things here that will allow us to create a foundation to grow.”

The settlement reached between Barnett and CU was for $3 million, more than had been reported, but, as it was revealed later, less than Barnett may have otherwise been entitled. Barnett would not coach the Buffs at the Champs Sports Bowl against Clemson, a task which fell to defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz.

The players were reported as being “stung” and “hurt” by the decision. “It’s a huge loss for us,” said junior quarterback James Cox, heir apparent to Joel Klatt. “We feel like if we could have done better at the end of the year, he never would have been put in this situation in the first place.” Echoed junior linebacker Thaddaeus Washington: “It was very surprising that it came down to basically three games for a coach getting fired.”

The decision made, there was little time to dwell upon the past. Before the ink could dry on Barnett’s settlement, the rumor mill heated up again, this time speculating upon Barnett’s successor. A number of candidates were mentioned. Some were former college coaches who had been successful in college, but had failed in the pro game, Butch Davis (Miami) and Steve Mariucci (Cal). Others had ties to Colorado, like former assistant Jon Embree and former player Dave Logan. Still others were assistants at other schools who had made a name for themselves, like Bo Pelini at Auburn and Gene Chizik at Texas.

At the press conference announcing the departure of Gary Barnett, Athletic Director Mike Bohn indicated that he had a pick in mind. “I have several in mind,” said Bohn, “but I think there’s really one that’s a great, great fit for us right now. He would be a home run, and I could look every one of those players in the eye, and also those recruits and fans and donors and (tell them) we’ve got a star.”

After less than a week, and after conducting only two interviews (one with Jon Embree, which was seen by some as a “courtesy” interview), Bohn made his announcement.

The 23rd head football coach at Colorado would be the coach at Boise State, Dan Hawkins.

Dan Hawkins was announced as the new coach at Colorado on December 16, 2005. Hawkins brought with him to Colorado an impressive resume. His 53-10 record at Boise State ranked his as the winningest active coach in Division 1-A. His 53 wins were the fourth most all-time for a coach in their first five years. His Broncos had won four Western Athletic Conference titles in his tenure. On Boise State’s infamous home blue turf, the Broncos were 31-1. Overall, including stints in the NAIA, Hawkins’ record as a collegiate head coach stood at 93-21-1.

What was also important about the new 45-year old head coach was what he didn’t bring on his resume: any hint of scandal. In his years as a head coach and assistant coach, Hawkins’ teams had played without much in the way of controversy. “I don’t think there’s any question we are talking about a bright future here,” said Bohn.

Any negatives to the hiring? One immediate concern was that Hawkins would be coaching Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl against Boston College on December 28th, leaving the Colorado players and remaining assistant coaches in limbo for the upcoming Champs Sports Bowl on December 27th against Clemson. Hawkins would not take over as Colorado head coach until January 1st, meaning that the reeling Buff players were on their own, with only lame duck coaches to assist them, as they attempted to rebound from three devastating defeats. It also meant that the Buffs’ new coach would have only a month to shore up the incoming recruiting class.

What about Hawkins’ ability to recruit against other Big XII schools? “A good thing is I think he can still recruit and win in the Big 12,” said national recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree. “He is a good hire and I don’t think there’s a better one available on the board.”

And what about Hawkins’ lack of ties to the program? While someone like Jon Embree or even Dave Logan may have created a stir locally, Colorado had to think nationally if it wanted to compete nationally. Plus, it didn’t seem as if Hawkins was having much trouble winning over the locals. At the same press conference announcing the hiring of the new coach, it was announced that a gift of $1.5 million had been made by Tom Marsico, a CU graduate, and his wife, Cydney, to help fund a long sought after indoor facility for the athletic department. In addition, Hawkins won the praise of former coaches Eddie Crowder and Bill McCartney. “One thing that struck me about this man was that one of his greatest strengths is his humility,” said Crowder. “Humility is an unbelievable power – and most great leaders possess great humility.” Added McCartney: “When you look at his resume, you of course see his winning percentage. But when you meet him, you also realize that he is very humble and obviously a family man.”

Hawkins’ tenure at Colorado would begin on January 1, 2006. Before that day, there was the matter of closing the book on another era. That would take place a few days before the new year, as the battered Buffs took on the Clemson Tigers in the Champs Sports Bowl.

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