Fourteen years ago seems like an eternity. We’ve seen three presidents, the Y2K dilemma and a wardrobe malfunction.
And we’ve forgotten about Gary Barnett.
That’s right, Gary Barnett, the same guy who got caught up in a scandal at the University of Colorado alleging his players raped kicker Katie Hnida. The same guy that said Hnida was “horrible” and “couldn’t kick the ball through the uprights.” The same guy that led Colorado to four Big 12 North titles, but also a 70-3 loss to Texas in his final year, which caused a $3 million buyout from the university that told him to take a hike.
With all the bad, there is some good in Barnett. He promised that he would "take the purple to Pasadena" when he took over the team in 1991. Everyone in Chicago and across the Big Ten landscaped laughed, thinking he was joking.
He was not joking, and he delivered on his promise.
Think about it. When Barnett came in, the Wildcats were coming off a very typical Mildcat season of 3-8. Barnett’s first three years were terrible, as he didn’t win any more than three games each year.
In 1995, the Wildcats finally came through. After a win over Notre Dame, as everyone remembers, the magic continued through the year and Barnett was the darling of Central Street.
Barnett was the guy who turned around Northwestern football. Without him, Pat Fitzgerald probably wouldn't be the Wildcats' coach right now, as he may not have turned into the player he was, winning two Bronko Nagurski Awards and two Chuck Bednarik Awards. Suddenly, Barnett was getting prized recruits to the program, players who eventually became Big Ten Champions after Barnett fled for Colorado.
Even though Barnett’s stay in Evanston was short, it was sweet. The Wildcats would arguably still be the doormat of the Big Ten (some still think they are) if it weren't for his time there. He led the movement to build the Nicolet Football Center and Trienen’s Hall, the indoor turf facility. It’s why something to recognize Barnett should be developed at Ryan Field.
Barnett still has a role in the program. Fitzgerald has spoken about Barnett being his mentor and he is known to talk to the team now and then at Camp Kenosha.
He has had his character issues. He did allegedly bolt the ‘Cats, lying to his players when he said he would never go to Colorado or his alma mater, Missouri. He did have a massive scandal at Colorado. However, if you’re talking about the most important figure in the history of Northwestern football, like him or not, you’re talking about Gary Barnett.