LOGAN — Utah State's football season is over before the Aggies' regular-season finale at Colorado State.
The Aggies (1-5) will not play the regular-season finale against the Rams after the majority of players voted to opt out of the game, as first reported by Stadium's Brett McMurphy.
The report indicates that Utah State players were "dumbfounded" by remarks made by Utah State University President Noelle Cockett during a Zoom call with players and athletic director John Hartwell regarding Maile's potential candidacy for the permanent head coaching position.
The players said they felt Cockett raised issues with Maile's religious and cultural backgrounds, which led to a players-only survey that prompted the opt-out.
Utah State officials said the administration will meet with players to hear their concerns in "open dialogue" to address them. The university added that it "takes issues of racial discrimination seriously," including an incident mentioned in a statement by the players about a USU Athletics employee last year, which was handled by an outside investigator that led to disciplinary action.
"I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone's religious background," Cockett said in a statement from the university. "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."
A university spokesperson confirmed to KSL.com that Cockett and Hartwell did call members of the team via Zoom, but no one on the call recorded the conversation.
The players provided the following statement to Stadium, which is contracted with the Mountain West Conference to stream several games every season, primarily in football and men's and women's basketball.
"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."
Maile, who grew up in West Valley City, is a Utah native who played high school football at Alta High before serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Dominican Republic from 2001-03. When the Aggies fired Gary Andersen three games into the season, Maile was promoted to his second stint as interim head coach, as well as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
Maile played for Utah State from 2004-07, then entered the coaching ranks as a defensive graduate assistant in 2009. He's spent his entire career in Logan, save for a brief stop as Vanderbilt's defensive line coach from 2014-15.
The Aggies have reportedly hired former Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson as the program's next head coach. Anderson resigned his position as head coach with the Red Wolves on Thursday to accept the same position with another FBS program. No formal announcement has been made by Utah State.
A plane owned by Cache Valley Electric Company, which is owned by prominent Aggie booster Jim Laub, left Logan's regional airport Friday en route to Jonesboro, Arkansas, where Arkansas State is located. It landed about 2:30 p.m. MT.