Forde-Yard Dash: Washington State's Coaching Staff Can Blame Only Themselves

Nick Rolovich and four Cougars' assistants were fired on Monday for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, jeopardizing the season for those who remain.

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where LSU won the game against Florida but badly lost the Hail Mary—like literally seemed unable to find it:

MORE DASH: SEC Debacles | LSU or USC Job? | Embrace CFB Change

FOURTH QUARTER: THE ANTI-VAX COACHING STAFF THAT BLEW UP ITS OWN TEAM

Nick Rolovich (31) got himself fired Monday, and four of his Washington State (32) assistants went down with him. Why? Because they refused to follow the proclamation by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee that state employees must be vaccinated for COVID-19 to continue in their jobs beyond Oct. 18. So in the middle of the season, while riding a three-game winning streak, the coaching staff is gutted.

When staff changes are made during the season, it’s rarely more than one coach who gets fired. This is the biggest reason why—it can wreak havoc with rest of the campaign.

Counting the head coach, a team can have 11 full-time coaches. Wazzu lost nearly half its staff in one sweeping action—an action that the fired men saw coming but did nothing to avoid. This is on them, not the school that employs them. Taking a stand against a vaccine that medical experts say has saved untold thousands of lives—that’s a hell of a place to draw a line, a hell of a manner in which to throw away a high-paying job.

And a hell of a way to jeopardize the season for those who remain. Coaches love throwing around words like “commitment” and “buy-in” and “alignment,” but these guys weren’t willing to do what they knew they had to do when the proclamation was made Aug. 9—get vaccinated. (Rolovich tried to get a religious exemption to the mandate, but that apparently was rejected.) The players and remaining staff will be left behind trying to make it work.

In addition to their head coach, the Cougars have lost their co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach; their offensive line coach; their assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach; and their defensive tackles coach. Washington State is not Alabama or Clemson when it comes to support staff, either, so it’s not like there are two dozen highly qualified replacements already in the building. With two offensive analysts, two quality control coaches and four graduate assistants listed on the athletic department website, this figure to be a skeleton crew getting through the next five games.

Rolovich also is facing a federal lawsuit from a former Washington State player who opted out of the 2020 season because of health concerns related to the pandemic. But according to the suit, Rolovich told him to clear out his locker if he became involved with a social justice movement that was permeating college sports last year. Not the most progressive of outlooks.

Life came at Nick Rolovich fast, and he was unwilling to do what he needed to do for the sake of his Washington State program. In coaching parlance, that’s a bad teammate.

James Snook/USA TODAY Sports

THE AMERICAN GOES FROM PREY TO PREDATOR

Last month, the American Athletic Conference (33) saw its top three programs give notice that they are leaving for the Big 12 in the semi-near future. Now, sources confirmed to Sports Illustrated Monday, the AAC is working down the food chain to raid Conference USA (34) for a whopping six members: UAB, Charlotte, North Texas, Florida Atlantic, UTSA and Rice. The news was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

The moves reinforce the AAC in Texas (where it already has SMU but lost Houston) and Florida (where it already has South Florida but lost Central Florida). UAB adds a bedrock football market and a program that is thriving; Charlotte is a big city with a lot of talent and an emerging football program. Expect regionalized groupings of schools and scheduling to be implemented to help make geographic sense of the sprawling AAC.

This also outflanks attempts by the Mountain West (35) to expand into Texas. Sources said MWC commissioner Craig Thompson has had discussions with multiple schools in the Lone Star State about potentially joining his 12-team league, which held together (for the time being) after some members decided against joining the AAC.

This is a huge blow to C-USA, and it explains the urgency the league was feeling when it recently requested talks with the AAC about a potential merger. Clearly, the AAC was interested in acquisition, not a merger. Once this realignment happens, C-USA will be left with no league member within 250 miles of its offices in the Dallas metroplex.

This continues the trickle-down, eat-or-be-eaten realignment period that began when Texas and Oklahoma made their move from the Big 12 to the SEC. What would now make sense is for the eight-team remnant of C-USA to explore a merger—or at least a scheduling alliance—with their general geographic partners, the Sun Belt (36). (There is some doubt about how interested the Sun Belt would be in such an arrangement with a weakened C-USA. UTEP and Florida International, at the far ends of the C-USA map, would seem vulnerable to being left out of such a merger.)

Either that, or C-USA can wait to poach potential emerging FBS programs from the Western Athletic or ASUN conferences. But if anything, FBS needs fewer teams, not more.

LAST INTERCEPTION POOL—WE HAVE A WINNER

The annual Dash Last Interception Pool snuck up so suddenly that it was over before it had officially begun. In the end, it boiled down to a quarterback from the Big 12 against one from the SEC, and the winner was crowned Saturday.

Gerry Bohanon (37) of Baylor wins over Matt Corral of Mississippi. Both interceptions happened Saturday, but The Dash is bestowing the award to Bohanon because he lasted until his seventh game of the season before throwing it to the wrong team, whereas Corral was playing his sixth. For the season, Corral has thrown more passes (184) with one oskie than Bohanon (174). But Bohanon made it deeper into the schedule.

A complimentary gift package of gently used Marriott pens, spiral notebooks and a 1998 Motor City Bowl press pass will be sent to Waco.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Kyle Whittingham (38), Utah. His program has been through a traumatic time, with two players killed by gunshots within the last year—and they were close friends. Ty Jordan died last Christmas, and Aaron Lowe was killed in late September. Caring that horrific burden, the Utes have won three in a row to take the lead in the Pac-12 South and are the conference’s only unbeaten team in league play. Winning football games doesn’t erase the pain of those players’ passing, but it is good for them to experience some football-related joy amid a dark time.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Dan Mullen (39), Florida. The Gators are 4–3 overall, 2–3 in the SEC, and after an open date head into a daunting challenge against rival Georgia. They may ultimately win out in November, but for now there are little fires everywhere for Mullen to stamp out. The fans are bashing defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and some of the Florida players aren’t exactly rallying to his defense, either. Then there is the quarterback controversy that has simmered since the year started, with Mullen reluctant to turn the position over to talented freshman backup Anthony Richardson. Here is what backup QBs tend to do: transfer. Mullen is fast approaching a point where he might have to decide not just what’s best for the program at that position in 2021, but in ’22 as well.

POINT AFTER

When hungry and thirsty in East Lansing, The Dash recommends a burger and a beer at the Jolly Pumpkin (40) downtown. Specifically, try the burger with crimini mushrooms accompanied by a Sparta IPA from North Peak Brewing, and thank The Dash later.

MORE DASH: SEC Debacles | LSU or USC Job? | Embrace CFB Change

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