Earnest Jones is the Huskies' new running backs coach and he will also double as director of player engagement, a job he held while at Notre Dame under Chip Kelly.
New UConn coach Bob Diaco, who was on Kelly's staff with Jones at Notre Dame, described the role as "making sure players have a yearlong plan for developing in a myriad of different areas." Diaco continued: "Let's just call it social development. It is teaching them about agents; it's teaching them about drugs and alcohol; it's teaching them and giving them inspirational stories from people that had adversity and persevered, bringing those people into clinic and lecture."
And Jones added: "We develop them socially, intellectually, spiritually, physically," he told the Hartford Courant. ... "And 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. 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."
One problem: UConn is a publicly-funded university and Jones' words prompted this response from university president Susan Herbst: "Employees can't appear to endorse or advocate for a particular religion or spiritual philosophy as part of their work or in their interactions with students."
Herbst explained the university's position in a letter published in the 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," Herbst wrote. "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."
The Courant could not reach coach Diaco for comment, but Gary Jones, director of the Connecticut Regional Anti-Defamation League, told the Courant that UConn addressed the issue properly.
"Clearly, this was a mistake on the part of the coach who is now employed by a public university, but we understand that both the president of the university and the coach have addressed the problem and corrected it and we're very comfortable with the response," Gary Jones told the paper.
UConn Athletics spokesperson Mike Enright said the purpose of Jones' position is to "build men of fiber, character and good works."