MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said Monday that top receiver A.J. Barker's abrupt departure from the team was because he was unhappy with being disciplined, not because of any mistreatment.
Barker quit the Gophers on Sunday and went public with a scathing email that accused Kill of manipulative and abusive behavior.
At a news conference Monday, Kill rejected the suggestion that any mistreatment had occurred. He said he confronted Barker at practice Thursday over what Kill felt was a disruptive conversation Barker was having with a trainer over treatment for his injured ankle.
"I'm not here to win any popularity contests," Kill said, adding he "doesn't treat our players any differently than I treat my two daughters."
Barker was a walk-on whose 30 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns led the team, even though he hadn't played since being hurt at the end of the Oct. 27 game against Purdue. He said he aggravated the ankle before the Gophers played Michigan on Nov. 3.
Barker said he was forced to practice by Kill last Tuesday, but he was unable to get through warm-ups. An MRI test the next day revealed ligament tears and a bone bruise above his heel, he said.
He said Kill blew up at him Thursday in front of the team, claiming he wasn't listening to the trainers or working hard enough on his rehabilitation and yelling that he'd never play for the Gophers again or get a scholarship.
"You demeaned me to a point of no return. You took the one thing you had a say in (my football playing career and my future) and you held it against me in an attempt to break me," Barker wrote.
Barker accused Kill of questioning his family background in the Thursday confrontation, and an assistant coach of using a gay slur against him last spring. Kill on Monday rejected both accusations.
Minnesota is 6-5 this season, Kill's second since arriving from Northern Illinois, and 2-5 in the Big Ten.
Barker, a St. Paul native who starred at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis, said he would transfer and believed he could play without sitting out a season since he was a walk-on.