Huddling With Jesus?: UConn Football Coach Says Players Must Accept Christ To Succeed

No public school employee should be actively working to coerce his or her students (or players) into accepting any religious belief. Jones’ job is to coach football, and that’s where his focus should be.

A position coach for the University of Connecticut’s football team said he intends to add a new “superstar” recruit to the Huskies’ squad: Jesus Christ.  

UConn, which is a public institution, recently hired Ernest T. Jones to serve as the team’s running backs coach and also as its director of “player engagement.” Since nobody would know what “player engagement” means without an explanation, Jones was kind enough to clarify.

“We develop [the players] socially, intellectually, spiritually, physically,” Jones said in a recent radio interview. “That’s what we’re going to do for these young people and [UConn Head] Coach [Bob] Diaco has allowed me to oversee the social and spiritual part of the development. I mean, this is big. This is a big part of our program.”

Spiritual development? That sounds problematic at a public institution. Worse, it turns out that Jones has a very specific type of spiritual development in mind – not to mention that he doesn’t seem to understand what the word “non-denominational” means.

“And we’re going to do things in our building, fellowship, non-denominational type things, players, coaches,” Jones said. “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. 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.”

We’re throwing a penalty flag on this idea. No public school employee should be actively working to coerce his or her students (or players) into accepting any religious belief. Jones’ job is to coach football, and that’s where his focus should be.  

Then again, Jones’ attitude shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that the former Alcorn State University (Mississippi) wide receiver’s last job was as director of player engagement at the University of Notre Dame.

Although when it comes to Jesus, Jones may be more likely to talk the talk than walk the walk. Back in 2008, Jones was the head coach at his alma matter, but he was fired for “malfeasance and contumacious conduct” (essentially going rogue) after just one season.

More specifically, the university said Jones opened a bank account in which he deposited fund-raising money, even though he didn’t have the authority to do so. He also bought Russell Athletic shoes for his team even though the squad had an exclusive deal with Nike, then didn’t follow the proper procedure for cleaning up that $11,000 mess. Additionally, he reserved a hotel room for a game without permission.

I don’t know if Jones asked for Jesus’ help with that Alcorn State squad, but his team finished 2-8. He later sued for wrongful termination, but the case was dismissed.

As for UConn, there is a sense of urgency given that the football program has been mired in mediocrity for some time, posting an overall 87-93 record since 1999. But it’s safe to say that spirituality isn’t the reason the team hasn’t succeeded. And Jones’ plan is only going to make matters worse.

Fortunately UConn’s president, Susan Herbst, quickly recognized that Jones was way out of line. In a statement, she said school employees are forbidden from endorsing religion and that all students should feel welcome at the school. She’s exactly right, and we hope this will be the end of the matter.  

But Jones needs to be watched. “Touchdown Jesus” may have been a symbol at Notre Dame, but that should not be the case at any public university. If Jones can’t accept the reality that he has to be inclusive, he may soon face a very hard hit from the U.S. Constitution.