Creighton coach Greg McDermott said during a taped radio interview Wednesday that he would have stepped down from his position this week if his players had asked him to.
It marked McDermott’s first extended acknowledgment of the severity of the fallout from his locker-room speech Saturday, when he compared the basketball program to a plantation.
The exact disciplinary measures McDermott will face are unknown — Creighton’s policy is to keep personnel matters confidential.
But McDermott said Wednesday that he did offer to resign Sunday night while meeting with his players.
“This is their team,” McDermott said during the taped interview, which aired on 1620 The Zone ahead of the Creighton-Villanova game — a battle for the Big East's regular season title. “If they would have chosen to have me walk away, I would have walked away. But that is not what they wanted.”
McDermott coached the Jays from the sidelines Wednesday during Creighton’s 72-60 defeat at Villanova. It was CU's first game since Saturday.
He used a portion of his opening statement in his post-game press conference to address what he called “an awful mistake.” He said he understands he caused pain to players who “look to me as a mentor and a leader.”
McDermott did not take any questions related to the speech Wednesday night.
Senior guard Damien Jefferson also declined to answer any question about McDermott’s remarks. He said the team is looking to move forward.
But the controversy continues to simmer.
On Tuesday, McDermott shared his account of his locker-room speech: “Guys, we got to stick together. We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can’t have anybody leave the plantation.”
Those words were discussed on social media and on sports TV debate shows all day Wednesday. National columnists weighed in.
Former Bluejay Josh Dotzler authored a guest column on Omaha.com, where, while supportive of McDermott, he denounced McDermott’s words and called on the community to take “significant action to better understand the truth behind our history and the world we live in.”
DeArica Pryor, a sophomore on the Bluejay women's basketball team, posted a note on Twitter Wednesday expressing concern about the university's response to McDermott's remarks.
"There are a lot of students, especially students of color, upset and hurting at Creighton right now," Pryor wrote. "These communities need to see clear, visible action that is publicized and effective."
Outspoken former state Sen. Ernie Chambers reacted to McDermott’s plantation comments Wednesday while being interviewed about getting his second COVID-19 vaccination dose.
“I don’t think that’s a firing offense,” Chambers said. “But it is so devastating and hurtful. It didn’t hurt me. But there are players who look up to him, and even some White players. And coaches quickly become father figures.
“The harm that he did has to be matched by the type of public discipline. And I’m not going to say what that ought to be. It’s up to the university.”
There is recent precedent within college sports for disciplining coaches who’ve made racially insensitive remarks.
Pat Chambers resigned as Penn State’s head men's basketball coach in October following an internal investigation — a former player stated three months prior that Chambers made a reference to a noose around the player’s neck.
Within Utah's football program this past summer, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley accepted a pay cut and a title demotion after it was revealed he used a racial slur in a 2013 text message.
The Big East Conference published a public reprimand of McDermott Tuesday, but its statement indicated that Creighton will handle the discipline.
The plantation analogy does not “represent the mission and values” of the league, the statement read.
“We believe Coach McDermott's apology is a necessary first step in Creighton's healing process, and we are confident that Creighton's leadership will continue to address this matter in an appropriate manner.”
McDermott said in his Wednesday radio interview that he wanted to hear the CU players’ perspectives. That they would dictate his response, and the school's next course of action.
It's what the past few days have been about.
McDermott met with each player individually Saturday night. There were conversations with small player groups on Sunday. They returned to the practice floor Monday and Tuesday. And the discussions continued.
McDermott said he initially wanted to release a public apology Sunday. But the players asked him to wait while they worked to handle their reactions in-house.
Ultimately, McDermott decided he needed to address it Tuesday. He got the players' permission after practice.
But this is just the start. Dealing with his “mistake” is an on-going process, McDermott said.
“Anytime relationships are damaged, it’s going to take time to heal all those,” he said.
Dotzler wrote Wednesday that the “the pain associated with Coach’s comments for everyone involved can be used for a greater purpose.”
Perhaps this inspires McDermott, his team and CU fans to raise awareness on issues of racial inequality. You can’t address a problem unless you face it “head-on,” Dotzler wrote.
McDermott claims he is attempting to do that.
“You hope in this world that one mistake doesn’t define you, but obviously this one is going to for me for quite some time,” McDermott said. “I hurt some people that are really, really close to me and that I care deeply about.”
World-Herald staff writer Chris Burbach contributed to this report