JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Jason Shay has resigned as head coach of the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team.

The university announced Shay’s resignation Tuesday.

“After much consultation and deliberation, I have decided it is in the best interest of myself, my family and the ETSU men’s basketball program to no longer continue as the head basketball coach,” Shay said in a news release. “This past year has been extremely challenging for me in many different ways. It is the right time for a new challenge and an opportunity to reset my personal and professional goals. I want to thank Dr. Noland, Scott Carter and Dr. Sander for the opportunity at ETSU and wish them the best of luck moving forward.”

Shay continued: “To my players and staff, thank you for all of your hard work, dedication and belief in me and our program. Leaving you will be the most difficult part as I truly love each and every one of you. Thank you to Buc Nation for your continued support and cheers, your unwavering energy and enthusiasm is what makes ETSU such a special place. Johnson City has been home for the past six years, and our family will always hold a special place in our hearts for the community and support.”

“As I say goodbye and have an opportunity to reflect, I will cherish how fortunate I was to develop so many amazing relationships and be part of a special program. The championships and memories will never be forgotten.”

Shay was named head coach in 2020 after previous head coach Steve Forbes left ETSU for Wake Forest University. He was named interim head coach after Forbes’ departure and had served as an assistant coach for ETSU since 2015.

“Earlier today Coach Jason Shay shared with me his intention to resign as head men’s basketball coach at East Tennessee State University,” Director of Athletics Scott Carter said in the release. “I fully respect Coach Shay’s decision and have accepted his resignation. Coach Shay is part of our championship history at ETSU, and I thank him and his family for the effort they have given to our university.”

The university and men’s basketball program faced immense backlash after the team was seen kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before the Feb. 15 game at Chattanooga. An ETSU official confirmed to News Channel 11 that the team had kneeled prior to other games as well.

ETSU basketball players kneel during the national anthem at a Feb. 15 game in Chattanooga. (Photo: WJHL)

When Shay addressed the matter a few days after the Chattanooga game, he said his team meant no disrespect toward the country’s flag or veterans.

“It was a decision our team made prior to the season as a call to action and empowerment against racial inequalities and injustices,” Shay said on Feb. 17.

Lawmakers took issue with the team’s conduct. Rep. Diana Harshbarger called the kneeling “disrespectful.” State Sen. Rusty Crowe said such conduct “will not be tolerated.” During the university’s budget hearing, state Sen. Jon Lundberg compared kneeling during the national anthem to flipping off the American flag.

All 27 Republicans in the Tennessee Senate signed a letter to university presidents across the state calling on them to ban student-athletes from kneeling.

It is unclear if the kneeling controversy influenced Shay’s resignation.

The university says the search for the next men’s basketball head coach will begin immediately.

The Buccaneers finished the season 13–12 overall and 8–7 in the Southern Conference.