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College Football

Washington State Coach Nick Rolovich Is Running Out Of Excuses To Not Get Vaccinated

Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich addresses the media in a mask.
WSU/YouTube

Washington State’s Nick Rolovich is the only Pac-12 football coach who hasn’t received the COVID vaccine, but due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide mandate announced this past week, Rolovich now has to get jabbed by Oct. 18 if he wants to keep his job. Washington’s mandate allows for medical and religious exemptions, but Rolovich would have to demonstrate a valid reason to qualify for one of those. He hasn’t done that so far, and in the past few days, he’s been deliberately vague about whether he’ll get vaccinated.

When asked on Thursday, Rolovich said that he planned on following the governor’s mandate. The coach spoke again with the media on Friday and was asked some followups on what he meant by that, but he wouldn’t go any further than repeating that he would “follow the mandate.” He gave normal answers to all other questions.

Cute stuff from the highest-paid state employee. Rolovich has dragged this out for a big chunk of the summer now. In July, he skipped the Pac-12 Media Day and was the only coach who participated remotely because he wanted to remain unvaccinated. He released a statement about how he chose not to get the vaccine “for reasons which will remain private.”

At a certain point, this puts the Cougars at a competitive disadvantage. Last week Brian Floyd of CougCenter made the case for firing the coach, arguing that Rolovich’s recruiting has underwhelmed this year, and any national attention he’s brought to the program has been negative. The WSU roster has the lowest vaccination rate in the conference at 80 percent, and their coach doesn’t seem like he’s in a position to encourage that number to go higher. It’s not like Rolovich has some stellar record to fall back on, either: The Cougars were only able to play four games last season in his first year as head coach, and the team went 1-3.

Beyond his stubbornness over the vaccine, Rolovich hasn’t proven that he knows how to manage players. Last August, wide receiver Kassidy Woods opted out of the season due to health and safety concerns, but he then accused Rolovich and WSU of cutting him from the roster because he joined the Pac-12 unity movement that advocated for changes including safety guarantees and distribution of conference revenue. The school denied that Woods was cut. He then released a recorded conversation with Rolovich, who had some carefully vague thoughts on opt-outs. Via the Dallas Morning News:

Rolovich: OK so that’s going to be, that’s gonna be an issue if you align with them as far as future stuff, cause the COVID stuff is one thing. But, um, joining this group is gonna put you on a, on a — that’s obviously, you know, you get to keep your scholarship this year, but it — it’s gonna be different. You know, if you, if you say, ‘I’m opting out ‘cause of COVID and health and safety,’ I’m good. But this group is gonna change, uh, I guess, how things go in the future for everybody, at least at our school. Um, so just think about that is, if it’s about getting paid and not (inaudible) about racial justice and that stuff. Then it’s probably, it’s there’s two sides, there’s two sides here. I’m good with the Sickle Cell and the COVID, and but this, this group is gonna be at a different level as far as how we’re kind of going to move forward in the future. Does that make sense?

After Woods released the conversation, Rolovich clarified that he supported Woods and regretted that his words were “construed as opposition.” That September, Woods entered the transfer portal; he now plays at Northern Colorado.

Floyd’s argument that Rolovich is unfit to lead is a persuasive one. College football coaches are ostensibly supposed to guide and support young adults, and it’s hard to set an example when you’re being recalcitrant in a media scrum while dressed like the Invisible Man. That said, it’d be a shock if Rolovich is fired this month. Even if the school wanted to do it, it wouldn’t be for cause. The state’s vaccine deadline isn’t until mid-October, so he’ll have a chance to prove to WSU that he’s worth the headache in the seven games he’ll coach before then. Assuming he doesn’t catch COVID, of course.