Washington State head coach fired for refusing COVID-19 vaccine

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Washington State fired football coach Nick Rolovich and four of his assistants on Monday for rejecting a state mandate that all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, making him the first major college coach to lose his job of vaccination status.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, had set a deadline on Monday for thousands of state employees, including Cougars’ coach, to be vaccinated against coronavirus. Rolovich applied for a religious exemption.

Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will be promoted to acting coach and his first responsible game will be Saturday at home against BYU, the school said late Monday.

“This is a disappointing day for our football program,” Sports Director Pat Chun said in a statement. “Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of the young men on our team.”

Rolovich was not immediately available for comment.

The 42-year-old Rolovich was the highest paid government employee with an annual salary of more than $ 3 million in a contract running through 2025. He had said he would not be vaccinated, but would not state his reasons. He was the only unvaccinated head coach in the Pac-12 and had been wearing a mask during games.

Assistant coaches Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber were also fired for refusing vaccination, the university said.

Around the country, many college football coaches have publicly advocated for vaccination, including Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Alabama’s Nick Saban. Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said it would not be irresponsible to be vaccinated and boast that his team was 100% vaccinated.

Many coaches have talked about their teams’ high vaccination rate, although schools are not required to share these numbers.

Unlike last season, when COVID-19 cases swept through major college football, postponing and canceling games weekly, no matches have been needed to be scheduled due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Rolovich was hired from Hawaii two years ago after Mike Leach left Mississippi State, leading Washington State to a 1-3 record in the Pac-12 in a 2020 season shortened due to the pandemic. Washington State has won its last three games and is 4-3 this season, including a 34-31 victory over Stanford on Saturday. He finishes with a 5-6 record on the Pullman campus in southeast Washington.

Rolovich revealed in July that he would not be vaccinated and could not attend Pac-12 Media Day in person because of it.

He said in mid-August that he intended to follow the new mandate requiring vaccination for every government employee, but repeatedly declined to say how.

After refusing to reveal his plans for several weeks, Rolovich confirmed on October 9 that he was seeking a religious exemption from the mandate. He has not specified his religious beliefs.

Rolovich needed to prove a sincere believing belief that prevented him from being vaccinated in his dispensation application. The application was submitted to a committee which reviewed the requests without knowing the names of the applicants.

To continue coaching, Rolovich had to receive the religious exemption and also have Chun decide that Rolovich could do his job while keeping the public safe. In addition to his work as a coach, Rolovich oversaw a youth football program and participated in promotional and fundraising events.

Rolovich was fired for cause, meaning the university does not have to respect the rest of its contract, though lawsuits over the decision are likely. The Washington State Athletic Department is currently facing a shortfall of more than $ 30 million.

Dickert is in his second season as Washington State’s defensive coordinator and joined Pullman after three seasons at Wyoming. He has not previously been head coach.

Washington State President Kirk Schulz said nearly 90% of WSU staff and 97% of students had been vaccinated.

The vaccine problem has gone through the entire season, dividing Washington State fans and providing a continuous distraction.

Players stood up for their coach as the season progressed. Quarterback Jayden de Laura told a sideline reporter after Saturday’s victory: “Stop hating Rolo. We love him. ”

The wide receiver Travell Harris praised Rolovich after the match for being a “player coach.”

“He’s a coach we all love to play for,” Harris said.

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