Washington State Fires Football Coach for Refusing State-Mandated COVID-19 Vaccination

Athletics continues to reel from decisions to vax or not to vax; it is the burning question.

On Monday, Oct. 18, Washington State University Cougars fired football coach Nick Rolovich and four of his assistants. They reportedly refused to comply with a mandate that all state employees become vaccinated against COVID-19.

Walked Away From The Bag

Surprisingly, Rolovich was the highest-paid state employee, with an annual salary of more than $3 million. His contract runs through 2025. However, his departure “for cause” separation forfeits any payments per the terms of his agreement.

The loss is devastating as it comes in the middle of their season.

“The noncompliance with this requirement renders [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 said during a Monday night news conference.

“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.”

“Who’s Coming With Me?” -Jerry Maguire

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee set a vaccination deadline of Monday for state employees. This included the Cougars’ coaches, who are state employees.

In addition, four assistant coaches: John Richardson, Ricky Logo, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber, were fired after noncompliance with Washington State’s August proclamation.

According to Washington State’s president Kirk Schulz, nearly 90 percent of WSU employees and 97 percent of students are vaccinated.

Currently, former defensive coordinator Jake Dickert has been named interim head coach. He is in his second season as Washington State’s defensive coordinator and previously served three seasons at Wyoming. This will be his first stint as a head coach with his first game Saturday at home against Brigham Young University.


Rolovich, 42, said he wouldn’t get vaccinated but never provided an apparent reason why. In July, he said that he would not get vaccinated. As a result, he couldn’t attend Pac-12 media day in person. Rolovich was the only unvaccinated head coach in the Pac-12 and had to wear a mask during games.

Additionally, the university offered multiple educational sessions for its coaches and staff about the vaccine to decide to vax easier.


However, in mid-August, Rolovich said he would comply with the vaccine mandate. He later reversed and applied for a religious exemption, but the request was denied. By Monday afternoon, he left immediately without addressing his team.

Still, players stood up for Rolovich as the season progressed.

Rolovich’s last post was at the University of Hawaii two years ago. He led Washington State to a 1-3 record in the Pac-12 in the shortened 2020 pandemic season. Rolovich finishes his Washington State career with a 5-6 record.

Now 4-3 this season, Washington State has won its past three games. The team had a 34-31 win over Stanford last Saturday.

NCAA Strong

The NCAA and state mandates have helped keep collegiate sports alive during this phase of the pandemic. Last season, COVID-19 cases paralyzed significant college football programs, and games had to be postponed and canceled weekly.

In August, the NCAA released guidance for fall training and competition amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 Fall Training and Competition document included testing, quarantine, isolation and other athletic and non-athletic activity considerations for unvaccinated and fully vaccinated Tier 1 individuals.

Tier 1 individuals are those with the highest exposure: student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical staff, equipment staff and officials.

“Current vaccination rates remain inadequate to provide community-level immunity,” NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline said. “It is essential that member schools work in concert with federal, state and local public health officials to develop COVID-19 prevention and management strategies that make sense for them.”

No NCAA games have needed to be rescheduled because of a coronavirus outbreak.

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