Washington State University fired its football coach, Nick Rolovich, and four of his assistants on Monday for failing to comply with the state’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate, making Rolovich one of the nation’s most prominent public employees to lose his job over a refusal to be vaccinated.
Rolovich’s dismissal brings to a close the monthslong staredown between the state’s highest-paid employee and its most powerful political leaders, mirroring confrontations that have been taking place across the country as the coronavirus pandemic stretches well into its second year.
“I just want to emphasize: People made a choice, and they had months to make that choice,” Washington State University’s president, Kirk Schulz, said in a news conference on Monday night. “This wasn’t something that just all of a sudden popped up.”
Schulz claimed that the athletic department had held educational seminars and that Pat Chun, the athletic director, had multiple conversations with Rolovich about his stance.
Rolovich applied this Month for a religious exemption from mandate, which is amongst the most stringent in the country.
The exemption was provisionally approved by a committee that conducts blind reviews — without knowing the applicant’s name or department. Chun was then able to decide whether the coach could fulfill his job duties without posing any danger to the public. Chun said Rolovich’s request for an accommodation had been denied, without elaborating.
Monday was Gov. Jay Inslee gave Monday as the deadline for state workers to get fully vaccinated, or to receive a religious exemption that allows them to keep their jobs. A report by the state agency earlier this month indicated that approximately 90 percent of state employees would be affected.
Earlier in the day, a Superior Court judge rejected a request by hundreds of Washington State Patrol troopers, corrections officers, ferry workers and other public employees for a temporary injunction to block Inslee’s mandate, though the lawsuit they have filed can still go forward.
Rolovich (42), was in the second-year of a five year, $15.6million contract and had become the face of the showdown. Inslee repeatedly stated that there would be no exceptions. June Jones, who he played quarterback under at Hawaii, advised Rolovich to get vaccinated. Jack Thompson, a Washington State star football quarterback, had several heart-to–heart talks with Rolovich.
Rolovich is at risk of losing more than $9 million as Washington State fires him for cause. He has two weeks left to appeal to a university panel.
Chun said the biggest losers on Monday were the players, who have coped with the upheaval of the pandemic and will now be playing for their third coach — the defensive coordinator, Jake Dickert, was named interim coach — in three seasons.
“It’s a tough day for Washington State football,” Chun said. “Nobody wants to be here. I have a lot of empathy for the young men in that locker room.”
Rolovich’s resistance frustrated campus leaders, including Schulz, who has strongly encouraged students to be vaccinated. In order to be admitted to the university, fans at home games will need to show proof of vaccinations or a negative coronavirus test. This policy was developed by the university in collaboration with the University of Washington.
Starting next month, Washington State students who aren’t vaccinated will not be allowed to register for classes in the spring semester.
“Certainly we’ve been in the national media again and again and again over Coach Rolovich’s particular stance on vaccines and his personal decision whether or not to be vaccinated,” Schulz said. “It would be naïve of me to say this wasn’t affecting the perception of Washington State University with prospective students, with donors, with lots of people around.”
As Monday approached, the drama around the deadline intensified — fueled in part by the Cougars’ three-game winning streak, which gave them a 4-3 overall record with five games left and kept them in contention for the Pac-12 Conference North Division title. The team is scheduled to play Brigham Young at home on Saturday.
Rolovich was backed by many players, including Jayden de Laura (quarterback), who gave a passionate defense. After Saturday’s stirring win against Stanford, Rolovich was drank a large amount of sports drinks by several Cougars.
“Overall, we have no problem with Rolo,” de Laura said after a win over Oregon State. “I love him. I love him to death. I’d do anything for him.”
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On Monday night, Chun informed the players of the firings and summoned them to a mandatory meeting. Mark Weber, the offensive line coach; Ricky Logo, the defensive-line coach; John Richardson, the cornerbacks and quarterbacks coaches; and Craig Stutzmann, who were all fired. Stutzmann’s brother, Billy Ray, was fired as an assistant coach at Navy last month for refusing to be vaccinated. Richardson is Washington State’s recruiting coordinator.
Schulz stated that the school has started the process of terminating the 50 coaches (out of close to 10,000 employees) at the university. Chun said that he did not know the number of other members from the athletic department who were part of that group.
It was unclear if the five departing coaches would be replaced. Chun said on Monday night that he was vetting possible replacements whom he hoped to have in place by the middle of the week, but acknowledged that it would not be easy to find coaches who are familiar with the offense used by the team — the Run and Shoot, a scheme that gained popularity in the 1980s but has largely fallen out of favor.
One practitioner of the offense, Jones, the former head coach at Hawaii and Southern Methodist, said in an interview on Monday that he had not been contacted about joining the Cougars’ staff.
Jones claimed that he had spoken with Rolovich over the past few weeks and that they had exchanged texts this week.
“I just think he’s like a lot of unvaccinated people,” Jones said. “They don’t want to be told what to do.”
Rolovich declared in July that it was not his intention to get vaccinated.
Even after Inslee (a Democrat serving his third term in governor), issued his decree mid-August, giving state workers almost two months to comply, he maintained his stance. Rolovich confirmed that he had requested a religious exemption after the Cougars beat Oregon State Oct. 9.
Asked then if the approaching mandate deadline made him uncomfortable, Rolovich said: “You think it’s been a fun time? Of course it’s been difficult for everybody. Many of the same problems are experienced by players. I think it’s an incredible stress, especially the young people. For them to be able to keep their focus and continue to give to each other, and to this program has been pretty special.”
Source: NY Times