Nick Rolovich wouldn't reconsider his stance, so Washington State University fired him as football coach on Monday for refusing to receive a state-mandated COVID-19 vaccine — becoming the first college coach nationally to lose his job for pandemic reasons.
Rolovich, 42, wouldn't get inoculated against the highly contagious virus that has killed more than 700,000 people in the U.S. and 4 million globally. He sought a religious exemption that apparently was denied. He faced a Monday deadline.
His ouster comes two days after he led the Cougars to a 34-31 comeback victory over Stanford in Pullman, their third consecutive win.
Rolovich's departure means he won't ever face the Huskies as the WSU football coach or participate in the Apple Cup, which will be played in Seattle on November 26. Last year's game was canceled by the pandemic.
In his previous position, Rolovich had brought aHawaii Rainbows team to Husky Stadium in 2019 and lost to the UW 52-20.
Rolovich was the only coach who couldn't attend Pac-12 football media day in person because of the vaccine position he took. He wore a mask during games. He leaves two seasons and 11 games into his WSU coaching tenure with a 5-6 record.
The coach's anti-vaccine position proved to be somewhat of an embarrassment for WSU, which is a research facility. The school requires that students be vaccinated before they can register for classes, and fans to show proof of vaccination or a negative virus test in order to attend games.
WSU president Kirk Schulz said as much in an interview last week with the New York Times.
“It certainly skews the perception of our message,” Schulz said. “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.”
While the news broke late Monday afternoon, people who attended the UW-UCLA game in Seattle on Saturday shared how he was all but terminated as a state employee — which meant Rolovich was well aware all along he was coaching the Cougars for the last time when he took the field that day.
"I'm gonna come to work tomorrow. ... I don't think this is in my hands," Rolovich said before the Stanford game. "So I've been settled for a long time on it, and I just believe it's going to work out the right way."
Coaching colleagues had tried for weeks to get Rolovich to change his mind, but the California native is a notoriously stubborn individual. His players gave him the traditional Gatorade soaking on Saturday, knowing he possibly wouldn't be back to coach them.
He was fired along with WSU assistant coaches Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber, who also did not comply with Gov. Jay Inslee's proclamation that was issued in August.
Cougars defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, who is vaccinated, is expected to be named interim head coach.
"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."
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