KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Gary Barnett has developed a reputation as a guy who believes he increases the average IQ of every room he enters. You can make the case that any coach who won a Big Ten championship at Northwestern may be the smartest guy in the room. But Barnett revels in his self-assurance.
After a spring in which his program was turned upside down by scandal, Barnett returned to the public stage Thursday at the Big 12 Conference kickoff. An independent university commission investigated whether Barnett and his coaches had sanctioned the use of sex and alcohol in recruiting and decided that Barnett was guilty of poor communication at most. The nine women who alleged that they had
been sexually assaulted by Colorado players or recruits got a pat on the back.
University president Elizabeth Hoffman, who had suspended Barnett during the investigation, gave him his job back. Barnett took over a program that has become shorthand for what ails college athletics.
What was remarkable about his appearance Thursday was how little the last six months changed him.
One man's confidence is another man's arrogance, and Barnett's words revealed little in the way of self-recrimination. This is not a man who looked in the mirror during his forced leave and saw a bad guy. If Barnett performed an inventory of his innermost character, he did not find any shortages.
At first, he said he was not interested in talking about the last six months, that he might experience Alzheimer's if asked. On several occasions, he spoke with an air of caution, pausing at length before answering.
Don't mistake caution, however, for self-doubt. The pauses were not a sign of a man conflicted, but of a man careful. In fact, the only action he regretted, he said, was the one time when he failed to think before he spoke.
Barnett said that he wished he had stopped before he uttered his comment about former Buffs kicker Katie Hnida. After Hnida alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by a teammate, Barnett responded, in part, by saying, she was a terrible kicker, as if one had to do with the other.
That's where his regrets stopped. Is there anything he could do better? Yes, Barnett said, and for a moment, it appeared as if he would give in to his detractors. Not quite. "There's a real lack of understanding within the university community. There's a real lack of information about all the things that college athletes do," Barnett said. "When there is a lack of understanding, there's a mistrust. We have to do a better job of reaching out to the university community, explaining how and why we do things."
Which means, in essence, that I didn't do anything wrong. You just don't understand what I did. It's your fault.
It may just be that Barnett refuses to adhere to the tried-and-true model of public scandal. The accused asks for forgiveness in the court of public opinion and pledges change. That's right out of the public relations playbook. Barnett has his own playbook.
Of the criticism he received after his Hnida comment, he said, "I have to admit it was very difficult at first. The only people who see me like that are the ones who don't know me and haven't followed me for 33 years (the length of his career).
"There's reputation and there's character. Character is what you are. Reputation is what somebody thinks you are. Reputations come and go. Character doesn't."
Barnett didn't do anything that called for him to be fired. There are problems at Colorado, and Barnett will get the opportunity to solve them. Anyone who hopes for his demise will be heartened by the new recruiting rules that he must abide by. They will be more restrictive than the rules for any of Colorado's rivals.
The Buffs, coming off a 5-7 record, coming off a spring in which they didn't have a head coach, coming off a summer in which starting corner Sammy Joseph up and transferred, have a long way to go before they can contend in the Big 12 North. If Barnett is a walking chapter of Mensa, he had better call a meeting.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.