Jerry Kill sounded more surprised than upset Monday over A.J. Barker's sudden, public departure from the Gophers' football team, but the coach defended his handling of the junior receiver.
"I feel bad for A.J. I feel bad that's the way he feels about the situation," Kill said of Barker's 4,000-word explanation for quitting the team. "But I don't treat my players any differently than I treat my own two daughters."
Kill, at a news conference called Monday in response to a series of media interviews Barker has conducted since announcing his departure, said he interceded during practice last Thursday when he noticed Barker having a "confrontation" with the team's athletic trainer. "I called A.J. over and let him know I wasn't very happy. ... Players have to do all the things we ask all our player to do," Kill said. Barker had not followed the trainers' instructions for treating the ankle injury that had kept him out of action for three weeks, Kill said, and he "very vividly" made it clear that that was unacceptable.
"You do not talk to an adult or someone of authority in that voice," Kill said, describing what he told Barker after finding out about his conversation with the training staff.
Once practice ended, Kill said, he had another 20-minute conversation with the 21-year-old receiver, in which he emphasized how much success he could achieve if he followed instructions.
Barker, in his explanation posted on a blog, called that second conversation particularly offensive, saying it was an attempt to "manipulate" and "deceive" him.
Kill said he has tried to contact Barker since the story became public, but has not spoken to the receiver. Barker, in an interview on KSTP Radio, said he was particularly upset that Kill had not awarded him a scholarship for his strong play -- the junior walk-on remains the team's leading receiver, with 30 catches and seven touchdowns this season.
But Kill said Monday that the football team's 85 scholarships have to be awarded by the first day of classes, and the Gophers had played only one game by that time -- a 30-27 victory over UNLV in which Barker caught three passes for 101 yards.
The coach defended his methods as a disciplinarian, and said he has "saved" many players with his approach. "When you have a roster of 120 players, to keep them all happy isn't possible," Kill said. "I'm not here for a popularity contest."