When the University of Colorado made the decision to force seven-year head coach Gary Barnett to resign, it didn’t understand it was choosing between life and death for its football program.
A decade following Barnett’s dismissal from the university the Buffaloes are still searching for a winning season. Colorado, a school with a once proud and competitive culture, has become the most irrelevant program in major college football.
Sporting a 31-79 record since the beginning of the 2006 season and a winning percentage lower than the bone-chilling temperatures of a Denver winter’s day, the Buffaloes aren’t showing any signs of progress. Optimism is at a record-setting low.
The university that wanted to put an end to controversial and unethical recruiting methods is serving a devastating sentence. An athletic department that thought it could win more football games with a new man at the helm should’ve quit while it was ahead.
From the mid-1980’s through the mid-2000’s, Colorado was thriving on the field. Coaches Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel and Barnett were common acquaintances with postseason bowl games and seasons that ended with eight to 10 wins regularly.
Today, fans would celebrate from atop Pike’s Peak if the Buffaloes were capable of eclipsing half that total.
After the Barnett era came to an end in 2005, Colorado has been the worst program in the Power Five conferences. The 3.44 average win total per season since 2006 is the lowest in major college football in that time frame.
The nine-year drought without a record on the positive side of the .500 mark is the longest of its kind, presently. In those nine agonizing years, Colorado has played in just a single bowl game. It was a 30-24 loss at the hands of Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2007 Independence Bowl.
When then-athletic director Mike Bohn pushed Barnett out of Boulder 10 years ago in order to “reform” a program that had attracted some attention from the NCAA and its investigative team, he wasn’t under the impression that the wins would so willingly follow.
Now, welcoming those wins back into a valley nestled between the city of Denver and the Rocky Mountains has become a decade-long conundrum.
And things aren’t getting any easier.
Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Colorado has posted an abysmal 10-39 record. It’s won a total of four conference games and has finished last in the South Division each of its four years in the new conference.
A strategic move to gain more exposure on the West Coast and an opportunity to recruit more high-caliber, athletic players has failed in this transition.
But failure has become common law in the new era of Colorado football, and that’s been its biggest obstacle in the recruiting game.
Only two Buffaloes have been first round picks in the NFL draft since the 2004 season, when both offensive tackle Nate Solder was drafted by New England and corner back Jimmy Smith by Jacksonville in 2011.
During that same window, Colorado has been home to just three All-American players, one of which was kicker Mason Crosby, who earned the honor in both 2005 and 2006.
These hurdles and hardships aren’t uncommon in college football. Duke, Indiana and Kansas have all had traditionally incoherent programs and have been known as perennial losers throughout its extended history in the sport.
But for a university that was accustomed to winning regularly and competing with some of the country’s top teams, the extended decline seems unthinkable.
It brings about the question of if the football program can recoup from Colorado’s decision to alleviate Barnett of his duties in hopes of running a tighter ship.
After a 2-10 season that included a 0-9 conference record and a loss to in-state rival Colorado State this past season, things certainly aren’t looking too promising.
The downward spiral of Colorado also makes you wonder if there is a clean and innocent method to running a football program in today’s college sports market. As the recruiting grounds becoming more competitive, the Buffaloes’ dedication to the “correct approach” doesn’t seem to be paying off.
Ralphie V isn’t leading the best players in the country out of the gates.
The torment and anguish of attempting to right the wrongs without receiving the benefits is immeasurable in Boulder. Perhaps ousting Barnett in 2005 was a self-inflicted gunshot wound that the Colorado football program can’t recover from.
It’s been a 10 year search for a winning season in Colorado with no end in sight.
The direction things are headed, there could be quite a wait before the Buffaloes finally break that trend.