Not to cast aspersions against Minnesota football, but when the Gophers are a hair over .500 and thrust into the headlines based on something other than a game they just played, it's probably bad news.
And today, good heavens, is it ever bad news.
Wide receiver A.J. Barker abruptly quit the team on Sunday, but not before unleashing a 4,000-word missive against head coach Jerry Kill on Tumblr (kids these days!), accusing the coach of forcing him to play through a high ankle sprain and subjecting him to what Barker describes as a litany of "manipulative tactics." It's hard to pick out one passage of Barker's screed that's the most damaging, but this is a good start:
The worst part of this all, though, wasn’t the way you cussed me out, it was how you “loved me up” in private after practice completed. 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. I submitted to you entirely and even convinced myself in my head “I have to be genuinely nice to every one in here at all times without ever contesting anything” or you would throw me to the wolves at a drop of the hat.
I’m not going to live like that. I’m not going to be a part of your team when I have only 13 months of eligibility left. I’m not going to give you the opportunity to supposedly save me.
Hooo-kay, then. Barker also goes into great detail about the history of his injury and the way Kill and the trainers reacted to it. Suffice it to say, Barker was unimpressed by the priorities on display by all involved.
Now, we're not in the Minnesota locker room. We don't know if Barker's claims are valid. We don't know if Jerry Kill is actually a terrible dude or if he's just being misunderstood or otherwise misrepresented. All we have here is one side of the story, and the other side probably has a vastly different understanding of the facts—or at the very least will present a vastly different understanding.
Here's the one problem facing Kill and Minnesota, though: High school coaches aren't in that locker room to know the truth either. Neither are potential recruits. And if they're reading what Barker's saying about Kill, they're going to be seeing a ton of red flags no matter what Kill says to try to fix the situation.
Minnesota's already at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting. Sure, you can get a couple 4-star recruits a year to sign with the Gophers, but by and large, that type of player is already leery of Minnesota's weather, small stadium, and rather gaunt recent history of success.
Throw in a very public takedown of the head coach by a former player, and all of a sudden you've probably got every reason a recruit would need to look elsewhere than Minnesota.
That all being said, we're not sure there are many coaches that are going to be completely free of the behavior Barker decries. It's awfully difficult to keep over 100 kids—all of whom are between 18 and 23 years old—in line at the same time without being a total hardass at times. That's especially true when the vast majority of them have spent their childhoods being coddled and advantaged, which you can pretty much count on from star athletes growing up as "the man" at their high schools.
So if he was indeed mistreated—and that does happen a lot, especially considering coaches are usually as unchecked in their egos as their players are—best of luck to Barker as he finds a healthier situation. And woe unto Kill as he tries to recruit around that elephant in the room.
And if Barker's just full of hot air, woe unto Kill again. At that point, he'd be dealing with passive negative recruiting without doing anything wrong.
Either way, this doesn't look good for Minnesota.