Proselyting Punted: UConn Coach Who Promised To Bring Jesus Into The Huddle Has Resigned

Now, before the Religious Right flips out over another case of supposed “Christian persecution,” let’s remember some things: Jones was hired to coach football, and he was contracted to do that for a public school. He wasn’t chosen to be the team’s pastor, nor did anyone tell him he couldn’t practice his faith on his own time.

It seems Jesus won’t be joining the football team at the University of Connecticut after all.

This week, UConn Head Coach Bob Diaco announced that one of his newly hired assistants, Ernest T. Jones, will resign from the team before coaching a single game at the university.

Jones, who was to be the team’s running backs coach as well as its director of “player engagement,” came under fire last month when he said he wanted to bring Jesus into the huddle. While discussing his plans to develop his players spiritually, Jones was just a little too honest about his intentions.

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

UConn President Susan Herbst immediately cried foul, saying in a statement that “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.”

That appeared to be the end of the matter until Diaco, who along with Jones last coached at the University of Notre Dame, announced abruptly that Jones would leave the school. In a statement, Diaco made no mention of Jones’ faith flub.

“Ernest has resigned his position effective immediately here at the university after deep introspection and reflection,” he said. “And it is entirely family and personally related.”

UConn’s athletic department confirmed Jones’ resignation in a statement, but offered no further comment.

Through a spokeswoman, Herbst made a similar play, saying the matter is closed.

It’s pretty hard to believe that Jones’ stated intent to proselytize had nothing to do with this sudden change of plan. Jones seems pretty committed to merging Jesus and football, and he has a track record of insubordination.

Back in 2008, Jones was the head coach at Alcorn State University in Mississippi, his alma mater, but was fired for “malfeasance and contumacious conduct” after only one season.

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.

Maybe UConn knew it had a potential First Amendment problem on its hands, and it cut ties with Jones before things got bad. After all, Jones has shown that he isn’t always interested in following the rules or obeying his bosses.

Now, before the Religious Right flips out over another case of supposed “Christian persecution,” let’s remember some things: Jones was hired to coach football, and he was contracted to do that for a public school. He wasn’t chosen to be the team’s pastor, nor did anyone tell him he couldn’t practice his faith on his own time.

If Jones wants to merge football and faith, then he needs to go back to Notre Dame or some other private religious institution. If he wants to work at a secular university in the future, he needs to remember that church and state are supposed to be separate in this country.