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Ex-Nevada assistant Nick Rolovich fired by Washington State over vaccine mandate

Nick Rolovich
Nick Rolovich was fired by Washington State after failing to meet the state's COVID-19 vaccine requirements. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Former Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich was fired as Washington State's head football coach Monday after failing to meet the state's vaccine mandate. Four of his assistants also were fired for the same reason.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee set a Monday deadline for thousands of state employees, including those at Washington State, to get the COVID-19 vaccine or risk losing employment.

"The noncompliance with this requirement renders (Coach Rolovich) ineligible to be employed at Washington State University and therefore can no longer fulfill the duties as a head coach of our football program effective immediately," Washington State athletic director Pat Chun told reporters Monday night. "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."

Rolovich, 42, was fired "for cause," meaning Washington State will not pay his remaining salary, which is substantial. The highest-paid state employee in Washington, Rolovich was due more than $3 million a year through the 2025 season. By not getting the vaccine, Rolovich is forfeiting potentially more than $12 million if he were to finish his contract. If Rolovich was fired without cause — for example, for losing too many games — the school would have owed him around $4.4 million to buy out the remainder of his contract.

Rolovich can appeal the decision that he was fired with cause, although that appeal would be heard by Washington State president Kirk Schulz, who supported the firing.

Rolovich's decision not to get vaccinated has been a hot-button topic since he was unable to attend Pac-12 media days in July as an unvaccinated person. He has repeatedly refused to explain why he opted against the vaccination, and in mid-August said he would comply with the state vaccine mandate. He later confirmed he applied for a religious exemption. Washington State uses a blind evaluation process for such exemptions consisting of a two-person committee that evaluates requests that do not include identifying information.

Chun informed Rolovich of his dismissal Monday afternoon, and he left their meeting without addressing the team, according to the athletic director. Chun said the Cougars players had mixed emotions following the decision.

"Their responses were what you would expect out of a bunch of college-age young people that lost their head coach and a bunch of position coaches as well," Chun said. "That's a very close-knit group. They handled it maturely, but without a doubt there's a lot of disappointment, sadness, anger. It's a room filled with over 120 young people, so it's going to be the full spectrum of emotions. But they listened and they were all there."

Washington State assistant coaches Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber also were fired after not complying with state vaccination requirements.

Schulz said nearly 90 percent of Washington State employees and 97 percent of the school's students were vaccinated. COVID-19 has killed roughly 726,000 people in the United States. COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe, effective and life-saving, according to the World Health Organization.

After being a star quarterback at Hawaii, Rolovich was Nevada's offensive coordinator from 2012-15. He was hired as Hawaii's head coach in 2016 and went 28-27 overall and 15-17 at his alma mater, including a 10-5 season and Mountain West title game berth in 2019. He was hired by Washington State to replace Mike Leach in 2020. The Cougars went 1-3 last season. Rolovich finished his Washington State career at 5-6. His last game came Saturday, a 34-31 win over Stanford.

Veteran college football writer Bruce Feldman listed Nevada's Jay Norvell as a possible replacement for Rolovich, writing: "One of the coaches Washington State might target is Norvell. The 58-year-old has done very well at one of the tougher jobs in the Mountain West. He’s also spent some time in the Pac-12 at Arizona State and UCLA. He knows the terrain and is a proven leader. His program is 12-3 over the past two years and he’s 27-14 the past four years."

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