Utah State University on Friday canceled the football team’s final game of the season after USU players voiced concerns about comments they say the school president made about the interim football coach.
A report by Stadium’s Brett McMurphy said that members of the players’ leadership council participated in a videoconference on Tuesday with president Noelle Cockett and USU athletic director John Hartwell to voice their support for interim coach Frank Maile and endorse his hiring as the permanent head coach.
During the call, the players say Cockett raised concerns over Maile’s cultural and religious background, per the report. Maile is Pacific Islander and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Taken aback by Cockett’s comments, an Aggie player conducted a team-wide survey to ask players how they felt about Cockett’s comments. Three-fourths of the players expressed concern, per the report.
The survey resulted in a players-only meeting Friday morning, where the team unanimously voted not to play Saturday’s game at Colorado State.
Utah State officially canceled the game Friday evening.
In a statement provided to Stadium, the team’s leadership council also charged that the USU’s football equipment manager used a racial slur against one of the team’s Black players last December. That incident, they say, was not initially acted upon. There was a subsequent investigation during the summer, but the equipment manager remained in his position.
The university said in statement issued on Twitter Friday evening that it will take the time to meet with players and “hear their concerns in an open dialogue so it can address them.”
Cockett said she was stunned by the players’ reaction to the meeting.
“I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background,” she said in a 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.”
The university also said it “takes issues of racial discrimination seriously, including the incident [involving the equipment manager]. USU hired an outside investigator to look into the incident, and took disciplinary action.”
The statement to Stadium also said the team’s refusal to play Saturday had nothing to do with Anderson and that the players look forward to meeting him and his staff.
The Aggies were 1-5 going into the game at Colorado State.
The end of Utah State’s season comes amid weeks of a tailspin that started with a less-than-ideal start to the season. After the Aggies lost their first three games, former coach Gary Andersen — who described the team’s effort after one game as “pathetic” — left the program. Hartwell said Andersen’s departure centered around the negative trajectory of the program.
Maile was named interim coach following Andersen’s departure. What followed was an exodus of players from the team, beginning with quarterback Jason Shelley being dismissed. After that, four starters entered the transfer portal.
The team won one game under Maile, a home victory over New Mexico on Thanksgiving Day.