“Utah State University has canceled Saturday’s football game with Colorado State University amid concerns voiced by @USUFootball players about religious discrimination during the search for a new football coach,” the school tweeted Friday night. “The university will take this time to meet with players and hear their concerns in an open dialogue so it can address them.”
Cockett and Athletic Director John Hartwell met with players via Zoom to discuss Maile’s candidacy for the job Tuesday, according to Stadium. During the call, the team’s leadership council was “dumbfounded” by Cockett’s comments regarding Maile, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who is of Polynesian descent.
Per Stadium, one player conducted an anonymous survey asking players if they were on the Zoom call and whether they were concerned about anything they heard in the meeting. About three-fourths of respondents highlighted concerns about religious bias against Maile by Cockett.
On Friday morning, in a players-only meeting that lasted more than an hour, they unanimously voted not to play in Saturday night’s game at Colorado State. The coaching staff was informed of the meeting after its conclusion.
“During [Tuesday’s] meeting, we voiced our support for Interim Head Coach Frank Maile. In response to our comments, [players’] 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,” the players said in a statement to Stadium.
Maile has coached at Utah State since 2009. He served as interim head coach in 2018, then again this season after he replaced Gary Andersen in early November following a 0-3 start.
Utah State will end the year 1-5.
Utah State reportedly will hire former Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson as its new coach, which the players noted in their statement to Stadium.
“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. We are highlighting the ongoing problems of inequality and want to create a better future for the community of Logan and Utah State University.”
This week’s developments came a year after an incident described by players as “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.”
The school tweeted that it “takes issues of racial discrimination seriously” and that it hired an outside investigator to look into the incident and took disciplinary action.
Cockett said in a statement that she is “devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background. “Regardless of how difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice.”
The Mountain West Conference said in a statement that “the official standing of the game will be determined at a later date.”