Barnett named Big 12 coach of year

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) _ Gary Barnett, on the Colorado staff when the school won its lone national championship in 1990, came back to Colorado as head coach in 1999 with the slogan ``Return to Dominance.''

It took three seasons, but even Barnett couldn't have imagined this.

Coming off a 3-8 season, Barnett guided the Buffaloes to a 9-2 record, including a shocking 62-36 win over Nebraska on Friday, and into the Big 12 championship game this weekend against Texas.

For his accomplishments, he was named Big 12 Coach of the Year on Tuesday by The Associated Press.

In balloting by 20 beat writers from the league's seven states, Barnett received 19 votes. Nebraska's Frank Solich received the other.

``That's an honor,'' said Barnett, 55. ``Any time something like this happens, it happens because of what your players and your coaches do. As head coaches, we get way too much credit and probably too much blame in all this process. But it's very gratifying to hear that news. I thank the voters.''

Skillfully pushing all the right buttons, Barnett rallied his team after a season-opening loss to Fresno State that had some fans and the media calling for his dismissal.

The next week, the Buffs dominated _ there's that word again _ in-state rival Colorado State 41-14 to start a five-game winning streak that included a 16-6 road win over Kansas State and a 31-21 decision over Texas A&M.

After stumbling badly at Texas _ losing 41-7 thanks to four turnovers _ the Buffs rebounded to win their next three games, all in come-from-behind fashion and all with backup Bobby Pesavento at quarterback. Then came the Nebraska game, in which Chris Brown ran through huge holes in the vaunted Cornhusker defense for six touchdowns and the Buffs twice built 32-point leads.

``It's an amazing turnaround,'' Pesavento said after the Nebraska game.

They accomplished the turnaround with a solid defense and a balanced offense, in particular a relentless running attack with four tailbacks sharing time behind a talented offensive line.

And they did it by overcoming injuries to their starting quarterback (Craig Ochs), their best defensive player (linebacker Jashon Sykes) and their top receiver (John Minardi).

``If you had told me at the start of the season we were going to play only four games with Minardi and Sykes and six with Ochs, I would have said we'd be lucky to be 5-5 going into the Nebraska game,'' Barnett said. ``The three guys who couldn't get hurt were Minardi, Sykes and Ochs.

``Other guys have stepped up, and everybody else elevated their play. We've just been a team that has found ways to do it. It hasn't been real pretty, but we've done it.''

Barnett, who took a moribund Northwestern program and led the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl in 1995, managed to refocus his team after the loss to Fresno State.

He encouraged the players to take an attitude of ``We don't care'' in regard to outside influences. ``We didn't pay any attention to what was written or said about us,'' Barnett said. ``We put a shield up. If anything, it brought us real close together.''

Barnett also used the psychological ploy of taking captains Michael Lewis and Andre Gurode to Texas Stadium _ site of the Big 12 championship game _ during conference media days in July, then telling the assembled media the Buffs' season would be a ``failure'' if they didn't return to play in the title game.

Many of the media scoffed, but his players believed him.