Utah State football players have opted not to play Saturday’s season-finale at Colorado State due to alleged comments by university president Noelle Cockett about the religious and cultural background of interim football coach Frank Maile.
Maile, a former Utah State player, is Polynesian and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was in the running to become the permanent coach before Utah State reportedly settled on Blake Anderson of Arkansas State on Thursday.
Anderson was reportedly en route to Logan, Utah on Friday but the school hasn’t yet announced his hiring.
Cockett held a Zoom call with players on the football team’s leadership council Tuesday to discuss Maile’s candidacy to become the full-time coach. According to the players on the council, she made the troubling remarks during the call.
“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 players said in a 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.”
Cockett defended herself while expressing disappointment in a statement she issued on Friday night.
“I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background,” Cockett said. “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.”
After Tuesday’s call, the leadership council informed the rest of the players about Cockett’s comments and sought out their opinions.
That led to a players-only meeting on Friday where the vote was unanimous not to play the road contest at Colorado State.
The leadership council also indicated that Cockett’s comments further an ongoing problem at the Mountain West school.
“It is not the first time issues of repeated discrimination have happened,” the statement said. “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 Aggies are 1-5 this season and fired initial coach Gary Andersen after the team lost the first three games by a 114-29 margin.
Maile took over as interim coach and the squad has since gone 1-2. The win was a 41-27 decision over New Mexico on Nov. 26.
Maile is in his fifth season of his second stint on the Aggies’ coaching staff. He previously had a five-year stint from 2009-13 before taking a position at Vanderbilt for two seasons before returning to the program.
Maile served as interim coach when Utah State routed North Texas 52-13 in the 2018 New Mexico Bowl. He guided the team after Matt Wells left to take the Texas Tech gig.
Maile also played in 42 games (21 starts) for Utah State from 2004-07 and was a team captain as a senior. He had 71 tackles, including 19 for loss, during his career.
Anderson had a 51-37 record in seven seasons at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves made bowl games in his first six seasons before going 4-7 this year.
Arkansas State announced Thursday that Anderson had departed. He reportedly agreed to a five-year deal with Utah State that averages slightly more than $1 million annually.
–Field Level Media