Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich has been fired for cause after refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine and being noncompliant with both state and university policies, the university announced Monday evening. Rolovich sought, and appears to have been denied, a religious exemption from those mandates, which required employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18 if they wished to continue working.
Four Washington State assistant coaches have also been terminated: Ricky Logo (defensive tackles), John Richardson (assistant head coach, cornerbacks), Craig Stutzmann (co-offensive coordinator, quarterbacks) and Mark Weber (offensive line).
Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will serve as the team’s interim coach.
“This is a disheartening day for our football program. Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of the young men on our team,” said athletic director Pat Chun in a statement. “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.”
Rolovich, who earned $3 million a year at Wazzu, appears intent on fighting the decision in court. His lawyer released a statement Wednesday threatening legal action against Washington State. The statement described Rolovich’s termination as “unjust and unlawful.”
“It is a tragic and damning commentary on our culture, and more specifically, on Chun, that Coach Rolovich has been derided, demonized, and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith,” the statement said.
Before his firing, Rolovich expressed uncertainty over his long-term status after his team’s 34-31 victory over Stanford on Saturday, saying he was “waiting on an email” for his exemption request.
“I don’t think this is in my hands,” Rolovich said. “I’ve been settled for a long time on it, and I believe it’s going to work out the right way.”
The saga over Rolovich’s vaccination status first took public stage in July when the second-year coach announced he would participate remotely in the Pac-12’s football media day. The league required in-person participants to be vaccinated.
“I have elected not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for reasons which will remain private,” Rolovich said in a statement at the time.
Rolovich later said he was not “against” vaccinations, adding that he respected and supported “all the work being done by the state of Washington, who as a state has one of the highest percentages of vaccinations in the country.” In August, he stated that he planned on following the mandate instituted by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
Even if he were to have received an exemption to the state mandate, Rolovich still faced hurdles at Washington State, which enacted a vaccination requirement for employees before a similar policy for all state employees went into effect.
“It certainly skews the perception of our message,” Washington State University president Kirk Schulz told the New York Times. “At most universities, people pay attention to what the university president, the football coach, the basketball coach and the athletic director have to say — that’s just the reality. People look at them for leadership because they’re highly visible and highly compensated. It doesn’t help when you have people who are contrary to the direction we’re going.”
Despite the saga, Rolovich managed guide the Cougars to three straight victories after they started 1-3 to put Wazzu on firm footing at 4-3 (3-2 Pac-12) entering its Week 8 game at BYU.
He also appeared to have the backing of his team. Starting quarterback Jayden de Laura voiced support for the embattled coach on behalf of Washington State players following the Cougars’ victory over Oregon State on Oct. 9. “Players, we have no issue with Coach Rolo,” de Laura said. “We have no issue with any of our coaches. We respect their decisions. I feel like it’s just the guys covering us, they’re trying to dig a hole on our Cougar football team.”
Rolovich arrived at Washington State after four seasons at Hawaii, where he posted a 28-27 record. His tenure there was highlighted by a 10-5 season in 2019, his last before taking the Washington State job. The former Hawaii quarterback was the offensive coordinator at Nevada from 2012-15 following stints as an assistant at Hawaii and City College of San Francisco.