Jerry Kill had not been able to reach A.J. Barker by Monday afternoon, so he doesn't know whether the receiver quit the Gophers football team because he was berated in front of his teammates, or was offended that the coach didn't give him a scholarship.
But Kill made it clear Monday he would not have handled either dispute differently.
"You do not talk to an adult, somebody of authority, in that tone of voice," Kill said he told Barker last Thursday after noticing him having a heated discussion with the team's athletic trainer. "You can't be having a confrontation with an adult trainer, and it's OK. That's not what we ask of everybody else."
Kill called a news conference Monday morning to counter a series of interviews Barker gave Sunday and Monday in which the 21-year-old receiver accused the second-year Gophers coach of "recurring" hostility toward him.
The coach, 51, said he had indeed publicly reprimanded the junior receiver, but only to correct his behavior. He denied insulting Barker's family and saying he would never play another down, and insisted his motives were not to humiliate the player, but correct his behavior.
"I feel bad for A.J. I feel bad that's the way he feels about the situation, and I will do anything I can to help him in the future," Kill said of Barker's decision to transfer to another school for his senior year, and his 4,000-word blog post explaining it and containing several allegations about Kill's treatment of Barker. "But I don't treat my players any differently than I treat my own two daughters."
Barker's Internet post also made a one-sentence reference to a gay slur the St. Paul native alleged he was called by an assistant coach, but Kill said Monday, "Nobody's ever done that. I'm not around every single minute, but when I've been around, nobody's ever done that."
An athletic department spokesman said Kill and athletic director Norwood Teague had consulted over Barker's departure and accusations, and that no university investigation into the matter is planned.
Being berated in front of his teammates, and then flattered in private, triggered his decision to quit the team, the junior receiver said in an interview with KSTP radio Monday. But the heart of his unhappiness, Barker said, was his lack of a scholarship. In fact, Barker said, if he had been granted one of the Gophers' 85 football scholarships, he still would be on the team.
"If he gives me a scholarship, it shows public support, and it shows that he says, 'Hey, I recognize that this kid is legitimate, that this season isn't a fluke,'" Barker said.
Kill, though, said his options were limited by NCAA rules that require scholarships to be awarded by the first day of class each semester. By that time in September, the Gophers had played only one game -- a 30-27 victory over UNLV in which Barker, who had only one catch in his first three seasons on the team, made three receptions for 101 yards.
"I told him, 'If you continue to do what you're supposed to do, [you will get one],'" Kill said, presumably beginning next semester. "I said, 'You stay healthy and you play well, you'll be in the same situation.'"
Barker suffered a serious ankle sprain, however, while catching his seventh touchdown pass of the year against Purdue, and the damaged ligaments in his leg eventually led to the rupture with his coach. Team rules require players to follow treatment prescribed by the athletic trainers, and Kill maintained that Barker didn't do that.
On Thursday, Barker said, he and the trainer "were having a very good discussion. And Coach Kill came over and started attacking me." According to Kill, the discussion grew loud and heated, and as head coach he could not ignore it.
"I imagine I said it very vividly," Kill said. "And at the end of it, I can remember walking off and saying, 'Hey, you're a lot like me, you're a little bit bullheaded. I love you to death, but you've got to do the right things. And that was the end of it."