(Photo: Screenshot via Hartford Courant)
A University of Connecticut assistant football coach who previously made waves for saying "Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle" has resigned for personal reasons purportedly unrelated to the controversy regarding his comments.
Ernest Jones, who served as the running backs coach and director of player engagement for the University of Connecticut football team, resigned from his post just two months after being hired. Both he and newly hired head coach Bob Diaco previously served at the Catholic university of Notre Dame.
"Ernest has resigned his position effective immediately here at the university after deep introspection and reflection," Diaco said in a statement Monday, according to The Hartford Courant. "And it is entirely family and personally related."
"It all was a shock, absolutely," Diaco continued. "He took his time and deeply reflected. He took a week and deeply reflected with his family to make a decision for him and his family to resign his position here and focus on private family matters and pursue other opportunities that facilitate and suit his family."
Just last month, Jones stirred controversy at the public university when he told The Hartford Courant in an interview that one of his roles as director of player engagement is to help athletes evolve in all aspects of their life, not just athleticism. One of these aspects includes spirituality, and Jones told the local paper that he would be working with his players to participate in "fellowship, non-denominational type things" while they are part of the school football team.
"We're going to make sure they understand that Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle, that that's something that is important. If you want to be successful and you want to win, get championships, then you better understand that this didn't happen because of you," Jones said.
Jones' comments elicited a critical response from the university and some local residents who contacted the paper and expressed their dismay that a coach was making such comments at a public institution. In response to the comments, university president Susan Herbst issued a statement to The Hartford Courant clarifying that the school does not endorse any one religion.
"It should go without saying that our employees cannot appear to endorse or advocate for a particular religion or spiritual philosophy as part of their work at the university, or in their interactions with our students. This applies to work-related activity anywhere on or off campus, including on the football field," the statement read. Herbst added that she and Warde Manuel, the school's athletic director, and Coach Diaco had all agreed to educate their staff on what is appropriate speech for a public university.
Herbst has denied that Jones' recent resignation had anything to do with his previous comments, with university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz telling The Hartford Courant that the president "considered the matter closed in January."