Sports

Rolovich out as WSU coach after refusing vaccine

PULLMAN, Wash. — Nick Rolovich is out as the Washington State football coach after refusing to become vaccinated against COVID-19, a requirement for all state employees, the school announced late Monday.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee had set a deadline of Monday for thousands of state employees, including the Cougars’ coach, to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs.

Assistant coaches Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber are also out, the university said, after not complying with Inslee’s proclamation that was issued in August.

“This is a disheartening day for our football program,” WSU athletic director Pat Chun said in a statement. “Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of the young men on our team. The leadership on our football team is filled with young men of character, selflessness and resiliency and we are confident these same attributes will help guide this program as we move forward.”

Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert has been elevated to interim head coach. His first game in charge will be Saturday at home against BYU.

Rolovich, 42, had applied for a religious exemption to the vaccination requirement, but it is not yet clear how the university committee assigned to evaluate religious exemptions ruled.

Rolovich was the highest-paid state employee, with an annual salary of more than $3 million in a contract that runs through 2025. He has been asked repeatedly for weeks to expand upon the reasoning for his refusal to get vaccinated but has declined to provide clarity. He was the only unvaccinated head coach in the Pac-12 and had worn a mask during games.

Unlike last season — when COVID-19 cases swept through major college football, postponing and canceling games weekly — no games have needed to be rescheduled because of a coronavirus outbreak.

Rolovich was hired from Hawaii two years ago, after Mike Leach left for Mississippi State, and led Washington State to a 1-3 record in the Pac-12 in a 2020 season cut short because of the pandemic. Washington State has won its past three games and is 4-3 this season, including a 34-31 win over Stanford last Saturday. Rolovich finishes with a 5-6 record at the Pullman campus in southeastern Washington.

Rolovich revealed in July that he would not get vaccinated and couldn’t attend Pac-12 media day in person because of it. He said in mid-August that he intended to follow the new mandate requiring vaccinations for every state employee but repeatedly declined to say how.

After refusing for weeks to reveal his plans, Rolovich on Oct. 9 confirmed he was seeking a religious exemption to the mandate. He has not specified his religious beliefs.

To continue coaching, Rolovich needed to receive the religious exemption and also to have Chun determine that Rolovich could do his job while keeping the public safe. In addition to his work as a coach, Rolovich oversaw a youth football program and participated in promotional and fundraising events.

Dickert is in his second season as Washington State’s defensive coordinator after three seasons at Wyoming. He has not previously been a head coach.

Washington State president Kirk Schulz said nearly 90% of WSU employees and 97% of students had been vaccinated.

Players stood up for Rolovich as the season progressed.

Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura told a sideline reporter after Saturday’s victory: “Stop hating on Rolo. We love him.”

Wide receiver Travell Harris commended Rolovich following the game for being a “players’ coach.”

“He’s a coach we all love to play for,” Harris said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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