Nicholas K. GERANIOS Associated Press
SPOCAIN, Washington. Washington state fired football coach Nick Rolovich and four of his aides on Monday for waiving the state’s directive to vaccinate all employees against COVID-19, making him the first major college coach to lose his job due to vaccination status.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, has set a Monday deadline for vaccinating thousands of government employees, including Cougar’s coach. Rolovich applied for a religious exemption but was denied on Monday, said Washington state athletic director Pat Chun.
Defense coordinator Jake Dickert will be promoted to acting coach and will play his first game Saturday at home against BYU.
“This is a tough day for football in Washington state,” Chun said at a news conference. “Nobody wants to be here.”
Assistant trainers Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber were also fired for refusing to vaccinate. Chun said there could be no precedent for a team to lose their head coach and so many assistants in the middle of the season.
“Our student athletes are the biggest losers in this,” he said.
Rolovich was not immediately available for comment.
Rolovich, 42, was the highest paid civil servant with an annual salary of over $ 3 million under a contract valid until 2025. He said he would not be vaccinated, but did not elaborate on the reasons. He was the only unvaccinated head coach in the Pac-12 and wore a mask during games.
Rolovich was fired for good reason, which means the university is not obligated to fulfill the remainder of his contract, although lawsuits under this decision are likely. The Washington State Athletic Department is currently running over $ 30 million in shortfall.
Across the country, many college football coaches have publicly advocated vaccinations, including Dabo Sweeney of Clemson and Nick Saban of Alabama. Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said refusing to be vaccinated would be irresponsible and boasted that his team was 100% vaccinated.
Many coaches talked about high vaccination rates in their teams, although schools are not required to report these numbers.
Unlike last season, when COVID-19 cases engulfed major college football, postponing and canceling games on a weekly basis, the COVID-19 outbreak did not need to reschedule games.
Rolovich was hired from Hawaii two years ago after Mike Leach left for Mississippi and led Washington State to a 1-3 record in Pac-12 in the 2020 season, interrupted by the pandemic. Washington State have won their last three games and are 4-3 this season, including a 34-31 win over Stanford last Saturday. He finishes 5-6 at the Pullman campus in southeast Washington.
In July, Rolovich announced that he would not be vaccinated and would not be able to personally attend Pac-12 media day because of this.
In mid-August, he announced that he intends to follow a new order requiring every government employee to be vaccinated, but has repeatedly refused to say exactly how.
After a week of refusing to disclose his plans, Rolovich confirmed on October 9 that he was seeking an exemption from the mandate on religious grounds. He did not elaborate on his religious beliefs.
Chun said he dated Rolovich for several months, but could not change the coach’s mind.
“He was determined in his position,” Chun said.
Rolovich needed to prove that in his application for an exemption from vaccination, he sincerely believed that he could not get the vaccine. The application was submitted to the committee, which considered the requests without knowing the names of the applicants.
To continue his studies, Rolovich needed to be exempt from religious beliefs, and also for Chun to determine that Rolovich could do his job while maintaining public safety. In addition to being a coach, Rolovich oversaw the youth football program and participated in promotional and fundraising events.
Dickert has moved to Pullman for his second season as Washington State Defense Coordinator after three seasons in Wyoming. He was not previously a head coach.
Chun said the school wants to immediately hire assistants to fill vacancies in the state.
Washington State President Kirk Schultz said nearly 90% of WSU employees and 97% of students have been vaccinated. Less than 50 of the roughly 10,000 employees have applied for benefits, Schultz said.
The vaccine problem spread throughout the season, dividing Washington state fans and a constant distraction.
“There was a lot of disappointment that such an outstanding employee decided not to get vaccinated,” Schultz said.
During the season, players stood up for their coach. Defender Jaden de Laura told a side reporter after Saturday’s victory: “Stop hating Rolo. We love him. “
Wide receiver Travel Harris praised Rolovich after the game for being the “player coach”.
“He’s the coach we all love to play for,” Harris said.
AP College Football writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.