Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver A.J. Barker caused a stir on Sunday when he produced a scathing letter about head coach Jerry Kill and quit the team effective immediately. Barker aired out a wide range of issues in his 4,000 word manifesto, from the coaching staff’s criticism of his recovery from an ankle injury this season to apparent questioning of his sexuality. Kill has since defended himself and the program, suggesting he and his staff are attempting to foster a “culture of discipline” and he treats his players the same way he treats his two daughters.
I do not agree with how Barker chose to publicly air his grievances with Kill, but in the day and age we are in we all have multiple public outlets to voice our opinion and put ourselves out there. What we have here is a case of “He Said, He Said”, with the truth likely lying somewhere in between. It certainly would not be the first time a coach was critical of a player and the player did not appreciate it. Not every player and coach fit together well, and Barker simply did not agree with how Kill treated him and chose to move on.
But I feel like this most recent incident, even on it’s own and assuming no other players share Barker’s assessment, further shows Kill to be in over his head as a head coach in the Big Ten. From a failed fake field goal against Michigan earlier this season and then citing that the play worked 10 years ago at Southern Illinois, to not realizing the questioning that would ensue when a two-game series with the football “powerhouse” that is North Carolina was bought out, the signs are apparent that Kill does not comprehend that he is not coaching in Division II or the MAC any more. Frankly, I feel like the athletic department should be embarrassed to have him as the most public face of the football program right now.
Kill certainly had a challenge on his hands when he was hired, but he seems to want to keep expectations low enough that simple bowl eligibility (for what that’s worth, with the abundance of bowl games now) will be good enough for Gophers’ fans and followers. But at some point being satisfied with essentially taking the field with the better teams in the conference will not suffice, and the Gophers will need to start to win some games they are not expected to win. Even former coach Glen Mason did that once in awhile, even if the Gophers never took the next step into the upper tier of the Big Ten during his tenure. Kill should aspire to get the program back to at least the level Mason had it when he was fired, and theoretically beyond. If he can’t get that done in the next couple years I expect athletic director Norwood Teague to make a change.