Controversial Firing in the Palouse

Steven Moore, Copy Editor

Washington State University’s head football coach Nick Rolovich was fired in October of 2021. Rolovich was one of several coaches on the staff that WSU had to let go of because they were not willing to cooperate with the state of Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state employees. The biggest name of the four assistants released was co-offensive coordinator Brian Stutzman. Stutzman was known around campus as a “quarterback whisperer,” as he and sophomore quarterback Jayden De Laura developed a meaningful relationship over the first half of the 2021 season. More positively, defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will now take over as the interim head coach for the Cougars. Washington State fans are for the most part optimistic to see what Dickert is capable of, considering he has turned the defense around in tremendous ways. Going into week ten of the season, the Cougs have forced 17 total turnovers, the most in the PAC-12. Dickert also has coaching experience at the University of Wyoming, as well as North Dakota State, where he was successful in both places. Additionally, co-offensive coordinator Brian Smith will now take over all play calling duties for the remainder of the season.

Coach Rolovich, or as the players called him “Rolo,” was just beginning to lead the program in a winning direction. WSU had just won games at Berkeley against the California Bears, as well as the week seven comeback victory against Stanford in Pullman. Senior Michael Moore says, “As a fan, I did not want to see him go. He was winning football games, so I was sad to hear that his exemption was denied.” Rolovich was aware that as of Oct. 18, he was required to get vaccinated, or else he would lose his head coaching job. He was recorded sharing a statement to the media stating that he would follow all vaccine mandates necessary in order to keep his job. He was unfortunately unable to do so, thus leading to the firing. This caused a great amount of disruption in the Pullman community and throughout the Cougar fanbase. Athletic Director Pat Chun stated, “It is a tough day for Washington State football.” Chun ultimately was torn over the decision, however, he knew that he had to go through with the firing because of the policies governor Jay Inslee has instituted. 

Furthermore, Rolovich is now looking to pursue legal action against Washington State University, as there was “discriminatory and vindictive behavior” behind the firing, per lawyer Brian Fahling. Fahling additionally stated in Sports Illustrated, “It is a tragic and damning commentary on our culture, and more specifically, on Chun, that Coach Rolovich has been derided, demonized, and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith.” Long time Seattle sports journalist and radio show host Jim Moore stated, “It is hard to see Rolovich go because it could be detrimental to the program, but some people were fed up with the actions Rolovich was taking and the state’s mandates simply do not allow him to continue as head coach.” 

Rolovich does, however, have the right to testify to the decision made by AD Pat Chun. Although it was seemingly obvious that Rolovich would not give into the mandates, Cougar fans were optimistic that he would keep his job for two reasons. For starters, he knew that the firing would be a for-cause separation. This notes that he could not meet the requirements in his contract, which paid him $3 million annually. Normally a person would be willing to give into any rules brought upon them to salvage a salary as great as $3 million, but Rolovich did not. He is very pious in his Catholic religion and no amount of money could cause him to change his morals. Plus, there was the slim chance that his religious exemption could be accepted by the state. While the exemption was being examined, WSU fans could only hope that it would be approved. 

Looking forward to the rest of the season, the Cougs are coming off a week ten bye after a great win in week nine against Arizona State University. ASU went into that game as 16 point favorites against Washington State, which seemed like too many points considering the way the Cougs have rallied the last couple weeks, playing hard for the new interim Dickert. The Cougs would go on to win that game 34-21. With that win, WSU advances to 4-2 in PAC-12 play, meaning that the North title now ultimately falls into the hands of the winner of the Cougars and Ducks next week in Eugene. Number four ranked Oregon has not been playing their best ball lately. However, they just came to Seattle in week ten and took down a struggling Huskies team. Oregon is 5-1 in conference, with WSU, Utah and Oregon State left on their schedule. Freshman Owen Iminuwa said, “I am excited to see how the season plays out. We have a very talented squad that is motivated because of the loss of their coach.” 

One thing that attracted Cougar fans to Nick Rolovich when he initially got the job in Pullman, was how passionate he was when talking about the Apple Cup this year. Rolovich had stated several times that this year will be different. Sophomore Karen Mendoza said, “If we don’t beat them this year, we might not ever be able to. The coaching and talent levels between the two teams are very noticeable.” Many WSU fans are very optimistic in terms of the Apple Cup this year because of all of the controversy surrounding UW football this season. The Huskies are currently 3-3 in conference and 4-5 overall. Head coach Jimmy Lake just earned himself a one week suspension for hitting and shoving one of his players out of frustration. Additionally, the Huskies just let go of their offensive coordinator John Donovon one day after their loss to Oregon. Donovon was very disappointing this year in terms of offensive production, only tallying up 330 all-purpose yards per game. The Huskies are in a bad spot right now, while WSU is playing the best football they have since the Rolovich firing. 

Overall, Nick Rolovich and other members who were released from the coaching staff have created controversy all over the college football world. Rolovich will continue to pursue legal actions against the university, while Jake Dickert and the Cougars will continue to assert their dominance in the PAC-12, looking for a huge win against the Oregon Ducks next week in Eugene.