UConn president publicly rebukes assistant coach regarding Jesus comments

Susan Herbst, president of the University of Connecticut, publicly rebuked a UConn football coach who recently said in an interview “Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle.”

Said Herbst in a letter to The Hartford Courant: “At public universities we value everyone in our community, and treat each person with the same degree of respect, regardless of who they are, what their background is, or what their beliefs may be. Every student, including student-athletes, must know they are accepted and welcomed at UConn. Always. Our staff should educate and guide students, to ensure they are well-prepared for life at UConn and beyond.

“But 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. Our athletic director and Coach Diaco agree wholeheartedly with me, and have made this clear to their staff.”

Herbst was responding to comments made by Ernest Jones, UConn’s running backs coach and director of player engagement, after readers of the Courant wrote letters complaining about the coach’s religion remarks.

“Just because you come to the University of Connecticut doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity to pursue your faith,” Jones said in an interview with the newspaper. “No, you’re going to come here and love the God that you love. So we provide opportunities for [players] to grow spiritually in our community.

“We’re going to do things in our building, fellowship, non-denominational type things, players, coaches. 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. This happened because of our Lord and Savior.”

Jones’ comments likely wouldn’t have been an issue or generated public comment from the university president had Rena Epstein, a West Hartford, Conn., resident, not written a letter to the Courant saying she felt “alienated” by the huddle comment.

“It sounds like football players who are not Christian might not be welcome at UConn, and would not feel a part of that huddle,” Epstein wrote. “[Head coach Bob] Diaco and Jones should know they cannot institutionalize their religious views at UConn because UConn does not have a religious affiliation like Notre Dame, where they are from.

“It is a public, nonsectarian institution where students of all faiths or no faith belong. The fan base is also diverse, and deserves better.”