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Witnesses on controversial USU Zoom call heard president's LDS comment

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Two people, who said they were on a controversial zoom call discussing the head football coaching job at Utah State University, told 2News Sunday what they heard from the university’s President Noelle Cockett---a statement that led Aggies players to refuse to play their final game this season. (Photo: KUTV)

Two people, who said they were on a controversial Zoom call discussing the head football coaching job at Utah State University, told 2News Sunday what they heard from President Noelle Cockett — a statement that led Aggies players to opt-out of playing their final game this season.

The two, whose identities have not been made public, agreed this was the tenor of her statement: "What do we say to outside people who ask us about hiring an LDS person from Utah? We tried that, and it didn’t work."

A university spokesman neither confirmed nor denied the school president said that, and reaffirmed the university is now launching an independent investigation.

Over the weekend, Cockett said she was "devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background."

Interim coach Frank Maile released a statement of his own.

“It is my understanding — from members of the team leadership council (who were in the meeting, which also included the athletic director) — that I was not ultimately considered for the position of head coach at Utah State because of concerns that my religion and Pacific Islander culture would negatively impact the university’s future football program,” Maile said. He added he was disheartened to learn "this kind of religious and cultural bias exists at Utah State University."

The university said it will meet with players to hear their concerns, and the USU Board of Trustees pledged to "handle the matter with integrity, fairness and open minds."

Cockett signaled she will be involved in the talks.

"Throughout my professional career and, especially, as president of USU, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet directly and often with students about their experiences," she said. "Regardless of who difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice."

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