Utah State’s rocky 2020 football season is ending in controversial fashion as Aggies players have voted against playing Saturday’s season finale against Colorado State due to alleged comments made by university president Noelle Cockett. According to Stadium’s Brett McMurphy, Cockett raised concern about interim coach Frank Maile’s religious and cultural background during a Zoom call with players on Tuesday.
Maile is a Utah State alum and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was serving his second stint as an assistant at the school before taking over as interim coach after Gary Andersen resigned following an 0-3 start this season. Maile, however, was passed over for the full-time job in favor of Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson, who is on the verge of officially being named Utah State’s next coach, according to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd.
It was on a Tuesday call to discuss Maile’s candidacy for the full-time job when Cockett reportedly made the remarks that were viewed as problematic by players on the team’s leadership council. In a statement released to Stadium, the team said, «We are highlighting the ongoing problems of inequality and want to create a better future for the community of Logan and Utah State University.»
«The Utah State football players have decided to opt out of our game against Colorado State due to ongoing inequality and prejudicial issues between the players, coaches, and the USU administration,» the statement continued. «On Tuesday, December 8th, the Utah State University Football Leadership Council held a zoom meeting with Noelle Cockett, President of USU, and John Hartwell, the Athletic Director. The purpose of the meeting was to have a say in the search for our new head coach. During the meeting, we voiced our support for Interim Head Coach Frank Maile. In response to our comments, their primary concern was his religious and cultural background. Players, stating their diverse faiths and backgrounds, then jumped to Coach Frank Maile’s defense in treating everyone with love, equality, and fairness.
«It is not the first time issues of repeated discrimination have happened. In December 2019, our head equipment manager used a racial slur against one of our African-American teammates. After disregarding the incident, pressure resurfaced to investigate in the summer of 2020. After the investigation, the administration concluded he would continue to be employed.
«We want our message to be clear that this has nothing to do with the hiring of Coach Blake Anderson, the recently-named head coach of the program. We are sure he is an excellent coach; we look forward to meeting him and his staff.»
The Utah State administration released a statement Friday night saying it will take this time «to meet with players and hear their concerns in an open dialogue so it can address them.»
«I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background,» Cockett said in the statement. «Throughout my professional career and, especially, as president of USU, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet directly and often with students about their experiences. Regardless of how difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice.»