Say what you want, but Nick Rolovich stands by his belief and it costs him his job

Oct. 19—The often-spun story involves Nick Rolovich at a roulette table.

He placed a straight-up bet on a number, won, and instead of collecting his 35-to-1 payout, left the chips and bet on the same number. This time his number did not hit. One interpretation was Rolovich lost $175. Another view—Rolovich’s—was he only lost the initial $5 bet.

Rolovich is smart, quick-witted and does not act rashly. There was logic to an apparent illogical decision to fake a punt on fourth-and-21 when he was Hawaii’s head football coach. During his introductory news conference at UH in 2015, he delivered a “Pride Rock ” speech—cobbled from months of thoughts—that was as chicken skin as Al Pacino’s “1 inch ” pep talk in “Any Given Sunday.” And it was his stance, seemingly illogical to many besides himself, that cost Rolovich his head coaching job at Washington State when he did not meet a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee had set Monday as the deadline for state employees, including WSU coaches, to be vaccinated or risk termination. Rolovich, who first revealed his non-vaccination status when he did not attend the Pac-12 Conference’s media days in July, gave assurances he would comply with the state’s protocols. Until Monday, the bar was set at regular testing and mask wearing.—RELATED :

But it became apparent that Rolovich, four assistant coaches and some staff members were not vaccinated—the tell being their masks.

Rolovich was provided with enough information to make his decision. Washington State has one of the leading research medical schools in the country. He was told how the vaccine was safe and could lower the risk of severe illness. He saw his best friend suffer the brutally uncomfortable side effects of COVID and then receive the vaccine. It took a family medical situation for a WSU staff member to reach out for the shot. Some of the other 129 Division I head coaches (all of whom are vaccinated ) encouraged Rolovich to get shot.

We may never know Rolovich’s full reasoning. Although he cited religious reasons, that might have been what he felt was the best option from a limited menu of exemptions.

Maybe Rolovich would have yielded if he were the lone outlier. But with four assistant coaches opposed to mandated vaccinations, it would be out of character for Rolovich to share the same reluctance for months, then walk back his stance at the deadline. Loyalty is in his DNA.

The shame is Rolovich would have been good for WSU. He is an innovative coach who twice rebuilt the Warriors—as an offensive coordinator and then head coach. Three months after signing a five-year contract with WSU in January 2020, he volunteered to take a 5 % pay cut—roughly $150, 000 per year—to ease the pandemic’s financial crunch. He would set up meet-and-greets around Washington with Cougar alumni, then pick up the tabs. And he did not push an agenda on the vaccine debate, repeatedly refusing to discuss his choice.

There should be empathy for his players, many of whom were supportive of him and now will be without their leader, who refused to budge on his decision.

The remaining WSU coaches also face a challenging future. When the termination was announced, none of the four former UH coaches remaining on staff was asked to serve as acting head coach. Instead, defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, who was hired away from Wyoming last year, was promoted. Riding with Rolovich can be enriching—those he brought over from UH are earning bigger paychecks in Pullman—but also without a safety net.

Being terminated without cause means no severance money. And while this means his future grandkids might have to work, Rolovich, a DIY guy, probably will be OK. His annual salary at WSU was nearly eight times his UH pay.

People will criticize his decision, scratch their craniums over the money not collected, and wonder : What was the point, anyway ?

But Rolovich is a 42-year-old man who had months to ponder the consequences of his actions to others around him. In the end, he decided to do it his way.

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