Utah State football assistant coach Frank Maile issued a statement Sunday in response to the reports that university president Noelle Cockett raised concerns over his cultural and religious background when players lobbied for him to stay on as the Aggies permanent head coach.
Maile said he was not aware of the videoconference that was reportedly attended by Cockett, USU athletic director John Hartwell and the football team’s leadership council. He also said the team’s leadership council told him he wasn’t considered for the head coaching job at Utah State “because of concerns that my religion and Pacific Islander culture would negatively impact the University’s future football program.”
Maile is Polynesian and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“As disheartened as I am to learn that this kind of religious and cultural bias exists [because I am Polynesian] at Utah State University, I am equally heartbroken for my players — many of whom are seniors who were preparing for the last game of their collegiate experience,” Maile said in the statement released to media outlets. “I want to express my upmost respect and admiration for their decision to stand up for what they believe in — and I’m truly honored that they would stand up for me.”
Maile has served as USU’s interim coach twice — two years ago after former Aggie coach Matt Wells left for Texas Tech, then again this autumn following the departure of Gary Andersen.
The Aggies on Friday voted unanimously not to play in their final game of the season — a matchup at Colorado State that was scheduled for Saturday — because they were deeply upset over Cockett’s comments, the details of which have not yet come to light. Stadium first reported the players’ decision.
Former Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson was named head coach of the Aggies on Saturday. The players, in a statement to Stadium, said their decision not to play the Colorado State game had nothing to do with Anderson.
Maile also called on the university’s board of trustees to start a “thorough and independent investigation of religious, cultural and racial discrimination throughout the Utah State University.” The board obliged.
“We take this matter seriously and understand that facts and details matter,” Jody Burnett, chair of the board of trustees, said in a statement. “The players’ statement did not provide details about what was said. As a result, we will be working with an independent investigator to understand what was said during the meeting and the context for the alleged statements. Consistent with our university culture, USU is committed to listening to students, and we will handle this matter with integrity, fairness and open minds.”
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 board said the videoconference, reportedly held Tuesday at the request of the players, was not recorded by the university.
“As we move forward, it is important to me to protect both the institution and players that I love,” Maile said. “My only hope for this painful and unfortunate situation, is that it will be a positive step in our community’s anti-discrimination journey.”