A bizarre and troubling story emerged Sunday afternoon out of Minneapolis, and it's not good for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Junior wide receiver A.J. Barker, one of the team's best stories this season, announced on Twitter that he's quitting the team and made strong allegations of mistreatment by head coach Jerry Kill. Barker, the Gophers' top wideout with 30 catches for 577 yards and seven touchdowns, tweeted Sunday afternoon: "Well, its official. I am done playing football for the University of Minnesota and I will be looking to transfer next season for my final yr." He then directed his followers to a newly created tumblr page, where he posted an extensive letter to Kill detailing why he's quitting (warning: the letter contains profanity).
As a walk-on, Barker can transfer to another school without having to sit out before his final season of eligibility.
Barker alleges that Kill confronted him at a recent practice and questioned his attitude and work ethic in his recovery from an ankle injury. Barker sustained the injury Oct. 27 against Purdue and aggravated it in pregame warmups Nov. 5 before the Gophers hosted Michigan. He writes that the training staff didn't inform him immediately that he had suffered a high ankle sprain. Barker also accuses tight ends coach Rob Reeves of calling him a slur because of his religious views.
But Barker's criticism is directed mainly at Kill. He writes, "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, going as far as to tell me I'll never get a scholarship or see the field again."
You revealed the extent to which you are a manipulator. You assured me that you could save me, that you’ve had problematic players in the past (calling out by name: Bart Scott, Brandon Jacobs, and even my teammate Michael Carter), and that you knew how to deal with people like me. You did everything you could to connect with me and at times you did so well that I essentially blacked out in hypnosis as you praised me like you never had before. You had hitched yourself to my wagon. You had driven a wedge into my character and filled it with your praise and support. You had beaten me down and brought me back up by your "grace". It was textbook manipulation and I saw through it the whole time.
Barker signs the letter, "your former player," but adds that he's willing to meet with Kill if his parents and athletic director Norwood Teague are present.
UPDATE: Teague issued a statement about Barker on Sunday night.
"Coach Kill received an email from A.J. Barker today notifying the Coach that he has quit the team. Coach Kill tried reaching out to A.J. after receiving the email, but was unable to connect with him. We understand A.J.'s frustration with his injury, and we regret that he has chosen to leave the team on these terms. Our concern first and foremost is student athletes and we wish A.J. well."
Barker is scheduled to appear on ESPN Radio 1500 on Monday morning.
We'll have more on this as it becomes available, so stay tuned ...