The president of a Connecticut university has pushed back against comments made by the school's assistant football coach, who recently said one of his goals as director of player engagement is to make sure students understand "Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle."
Ernest Jones, the running backs coach and director of player engagement for the University of Connecticut football team, told the local Hartford Courant in a recent interview that his role as director of player engagement is to develop players in a variety of ways aside from their athletic performance, including their role in society, how to write a resume, and how to develop social skills. In the interview, Jones also stressed the importance of a player's spirituality, saying that each athlete participates in "fellowship, non-denominational type things" while playing with the 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 told the Courant in the interview, published over the weekend. "This happened because of our Lord and Savior. That's going to be something said by Bob Diaco. That's something that's going to be said by Ernest Jones. That's who we are."
The university's new head coach, Bob Diaco, was hired last month. He previously served as the defensive coach for Notre Dame, a Catholic university with a top football team located in South Bend, Ind. Last week, Diaco announced his coaching staff, which included Jones, who also came from Notre Dame where he served as director of player engagement for two years.
Jones' comments regarding Jesus in the huddle drew the ire of some Connecticut residents, who reportedly contacted The Hartford Courant asking if the public research university caters to one religion over another. In response, the university's president, Susan Herbst, responded Tuesday with a letter to the local newspaper 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 went on to say that the school's athletic director, Warde Manuel, and Coach Diaco agree with her sentiment and have reiterated the school's policy to their staff.
Jones reportedly spoke with the New Haven Register on the same day he uttered his controversial comments to the Hartford Courant, and he reiterated the importance of spirituality for his players. "What we want to do is develop [the players] in five areas. We are going to develop them socially, intellectually, spiritually, physically and we are going to develop their skills," Jones said.
"That is what they are going to get if they come to the University of Connecticut. We want to handle the social and spiritual piece. What we want to do is make a difference in their lives, make them men of character, men of integrity."