Why did Washington State fire Nick Rolovich? Coach’s vaccine refusal at center of Cougars’ decision

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Washington State head football coach Nick Rolovich took a public stance against being vaccinated for COVID-19, in spite of a state mandate that applies to public education workers. He’s no longer a state employee.

Rolovich and four members of his staff — assistant head coach John Richardson, co-offensive coordinator Craig Stutzmann, offensive line coach Mark Weber and defensive tackles coach Ricky Logo — were fired Monday.

John Canzano of The Oregonian reported that Washington State fired Rolvoch for cause.

“It is disheartening to be here today. Our football team is hurting, our WSU community is fractured. Today will have a lasting impact on the young men on our team and the remaining coaches and staff,” Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said in a press conference. “As the director of athletics and steward of this department, I take full ownership and responsibility for hiring Nick in January 2020 based on all the information we had at the time, including extensive references and conversations with knowledgeable football experts. We believe we found the perfect fit and a long-term solution for Washington State football.

“Unfortunately, we stand here today having to make a transition. To be at this juncture today is unacceptable on so many levels and is antithetical to the WSU experience our student-athletes so richly deserve. I’m saddened for our football alumni, and to all the proud Cougs all over the world for the fracturing that has transpired over the past few months.

Rolovich leaves the program in the midst of a 4-3 season (3-2 Pac-12) and with a Saturday matchup against previously ranked BYU looming. Washington State is third in the Pac-12 North.

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Sporting News breaks down what led to Rolovich’s dismissal.

Why did Washington State fire Nick Rolovich?

The reason is simple: Rolovich and four of his assistants were not vaccinated by the Monday deadline to receive the vaccine.

The university said in a statement shared by Action Network’s Brett McMurphy that state agencies are prohibited from allowing workers who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to work for them after Monday.

Washington State promoted defensive coordinator Jake Dickert to acting head coach.

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“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. 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,” Chun said in the university’s release.

Rolovich had a timeline that he had to adhere to. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has mandated that state employees, including those working at higher education institutions, be vaccinated.

According to the state’s website, employees were required to be fully vaccinated by Monday. The requirement extends even to contractors, volunteers and other people who work in those settings. Rolovich fit into the employee category. 

Rolovioch applied for a religious exemption prior to the deadline. After the team’s win against Stanford on Saturday, Rolovich said he had not been updated on the status of his request, according to ESPN.

“I’m going to come to work (Sunday) . . . I don’t think this is in my hands,” Rolovich said, per ESPN. “So I’ve been settled for a long time on it, and I just believe it’s going to work out the right way.”

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While additional details of his termination have not been released, Rolovich was not allowed to be around a state higher education institution after Oct. 18 since he had not been vaccinated or received an exemption. That would explain why he was fired for cause.

University administrators previously voiced frustrations with the coach’s refusal to get vaccinated, especially after Washington State mandated that its students also receive the vaccine. Washington State president Kirk Schulz told The New York Times last week that Rolovich’s stance skewed “the perception of our message.”

“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,” Schultz said. “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.”

According to the Times’ report published Oct. 10, Washington State employees had made 437 requests for a religious exemption, with 98 granted.

Why did Nick Rolovich refuse the COVID-19 vaccine?

Rolovich first made known his stance against receiving the vaccine in a July tweet where he said he decided not to get it “for reasons which will remain private.” He said he could not attend Pac-12 Media Days in person.

Rolovich said in the tweet that he would not comment further on his stance. He did not comment until a story published by USA Today on Oct. 9 in which his mentor, former Hawaii coach June Jones, said that Rolovich had requested the exemption.

Rolovich said after his team’s game against Oregon State that day he was “not terribly happy with the way it happened.”

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“I hope no player that I coach has to wake up and feel the way I felt today,” Rolovich said. “I don’t think it was malicious, but that wasn’t a great thing to wake up to, to be honest with you.”

Nick Rolovich’s Washington State contract

According to The Seattle Times, there were clear lines in Rolovich’s contract that allowed him to be fired.

“Employee agrees to devote Employee’s best efforts to the performance of their duties for the University, and to comply and with support all rules, regulations, policies, and decisions established or issued by the University,” Section 1.2 of the contract read, per the Times.

The contract also stated that “deliberate and serious violations” of Section 1.2 “or refusal or unwillingness to perform such duties in good faith and to the best of Employee’s abilities” would lead to a “Just Cause” termination.

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A firing for cause means that the university will not pay out the remainder of Rolovich’s contract. The Associated Press and Seattle television station KING speculated that lawsuits may be coming. 

The Seattle Times reported that Rolovich receives $2 million annually in base pay and has three more seasons remaining on his contract. If Rolovich was fired without cause, he would have been owed $3.6 million.



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