Utah State’s players have opted out of Saturday’s game at Colorado State because of comments by university President Noelle Cockett on Tuesday voicing her concerns about interim Head Coach Frank Maile’s religious and cultural background, Stadium has learned.
After Tuesday’s Zoom call with Cockett and Athletic Director John Hartwell to discuss Maile’s candidacy for the Utah State job, the team’s leadership council raised issues about Cockett’s comments regarding Maile, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The players were so “dumbfounded” by Cockett’s comments that a player conducted an anonymous players-only survey asking the players if they were on the zoom call and whether they were concerned about anything they heard in the meeting.
About three-fourths of the team that responded by Thursday mentioned they were concerned about the religious bias against Maile by Cockett. The players said they don’t believe the Zoom call was recorded.
None of the players were aware of each other’s answers and responded individually.
On Friday morning, in a players-only meeting that lasted more than an hour, the players unanimously voted to not play the season finale because of these issues. The coaching staff was not aware of the players’ meeting until after its conclusion. The Aggies finished the year 1-5.
The team issued the following statement to Stadium:
“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.
“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. We are highlighting the ongoing problems of inequality and want to create a better future for the community of Logan and Utah State University.”
On Thursday, Arkansas State announced that Anderson had resigned and accepted another head coaching position. Multiple sources said Anderson had been hired at Utah State, although the Aggies have not officially announced the hiring.
Maile is a graduate of Utah State and had been an assistant for the Aggies from 2009-13 before coaching at Vanderbilt from 2014-15. In 2016, he returned to Utah State as assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator, a position he’s held the past five seasons.
“I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background,” Cockett 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 team was scheduled to leave Logan, Utah, for Fort Collins at 4 p.m. MT Friday night.