The new normal is anything but that for CU football team
BOULDER – The coaches come to work knowing they’ll soon be out of a job.The players come to practice knowing they’re partially responsible for the changes that have roiled their program over the last several weeks.This year, there’s nothing “normal” about getting ready for a bowl game at Colorado, where a new coach is on the way but the old coaching staff is responsible for closing out the year.”We are professionals,” said Mike Hankwitz, the defensive coordinator who became interim coach when Gary Barnett was forced to step down. “We are going to finish that way. In reality, how we conduct ourselves in this period and how well our players play will be as good an interview as you can do – better than anything you could say.”Still, if Colorado’s performance against Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday is what decides the future of Hankwitz and the other nine Buffs assistants, well, they’ll probably want to freshen up their interview skills.Colorado comes into the game on a three-game losing streak, the last two of which came by a combined score of 100-6.Though athletic director Mike Bohn said performance on the field wasn’t the sole contributor to Barnett’s departure, the fact remains that Barnett appeared to be steaming toward a contract extension before those losses.In trying to come up with a reason for his team’s sudden and stark decline, Barnett talked about what a “fragile existence” coaches have in trying to lead young players, especially those under the stress the Buffs have been during the last three years.He walked away with a $3 million settlement after the pieces broke. His assistants, meanwhile, need to find jobs to feed their families.”Even though it’s a difficult time, and our coaches realize that, we’ve always been about doing the right thing by our players anyway,” Hankwitz said.The players are stuck in the middle. They feel a sense of loyalty to the current coaches, most of whom recruited them and stuck with them in what felt like an us-against-the-world situation as scandal enveloped Colorado on Barnett’s watch.Yet they know they must sign on to the program of the new coach, Dan Hawkins, who has been hired but will finish things up at his old school, Boise State, before officially taking over the Buffs.”The whole last month has been more stressful than anything for all of us,” receiver Evan Judge said. “We thought it was all behind us, but obviously it wasn’t. ‘Stressful’ is the word I would use.”There’s also a certain amount of guilt.Nobody feels it worse than quarterback Joel Klatt. He’s the guy Barnett took a chance on as a walk-on in 2002. He’s the player who rewrote the CU record book under Barnett’s guidance, the guy who stood up consistently for his coach when many were calling for his ouster during the darkest days in 2003 and ’04, when allegations of rape were being made against Colorado players.He’s also the player who guided the offense to just two field goals in the two games that sealed Barnett’s fate. To make things worse, Klatt is recovering from a concussion in the 70-3 loss against Texas and probably won’t play in the bowl game.”Absolutely,” Klatt said when asked if he felt a certain amount of guilt over Barnett’s fate. “I put a lot of things on my shoulders, especially after losses. Going out your senior year with the coach leaving, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Coach Barnett would kill me for saying that, but it’s just the way I feel about things.”While the players try to come up with the stuff to play a competitive game against Clemson, the coaches are in the awkward position of staying in contact with recruits and convincing them that CU is a great place to play, even though they’ll be playing for new coaches.It’s rare for a new coach to keep more than one or two assistants from the old staff.Meanwhile, these assistants have worked under what is widely regarded as one of the worst deals in the nation. At Colorado, assistants work on month-to-month contracts, often for well below market value.Barnett tried to make up for some of that by paying them well for helping out at the summertime coaching clinic he ran. But even that came under scrutiny, and a state audit released last week showed spending irregularities involving the camp.The audit added further insult by questioning the routine practice of allowing coaches’ wives to travel to bowl games. Wives still had the chance to make the trip to Orlando, but only after some hand-wringing within the administration.All in all, there is nothing normal or comfortable about these awkward weeks at Colorado.”But we’re not going to stop now,” Hankwitz said. “Our players need leadership and that’s up to us to provide.”
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