PULLMAN, Wash. - Washington State University fired head football coach Nick Rolovich and four assistant coaches on Monday, the deadline for state workers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
Rolovich was the highest-paid state employee earning more than $3 million per year.
The announcement came after the state of Washington set Oct. 18 as the deadline for all public employees — including the Cougars coach — to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
"This is a disheartening day for our football program," said WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun. "Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of the young men on our team. The leadership on our football team is filled with young men of character, selflessness and resiliency and we are confident these same attributes will help guide this program as we move forward."
The university cited the coaches' inability to fulfill their duties due to the requirements set forth by the governor's proclamation 21-14.1 which prohibits "any State Agency from permitting any Worker to engage in work for the agency after October 18, 2021, if the Worker has not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provided proof thereof to the agency."
"Experience is showing that vaccine mandates help motivate people to complete the vaccination process," said WSU Board of Regents Chair Marty Dickinson. "WSU has worked diligently to ensure the health and safety of our students, facility, staff and communities, as seen in our outstanding vaccination rates. WSU leadership takes Governor Inslee’s mandate policy seriously and we are committed to complying."
The news was first reported by The Oregonian's John Canzano.
WSU's current defensive coordinator Jake Dickert was named interim coach for WSU.
Rolovich had refused to be vaccinated for unspecified reasons, in defiance of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate. He was the only unvaccinated coach in the Pac-12.
Rolovich had applied for a religious exemption and his future with the team had been hanging on the answer.
"I believe this is gonna work out in the right way," Rolovich said last week, adding that meant him remaining as coach of the Cougars. "I got faith in it."
The four assistant coaches also being terminated are Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber.
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 25 : Nick Rolovich head coach of the Washington State Cougars talks with officials during their game against the Utah Utes September 25, 2021 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty
"While much has been made of the relatively small number of university employees who are not complying with the Governor’s mandate, we are immensely gratified that nearly 90 percent of WSU employees and 97 percent of our students are now vaccinated," said WSU President Kirk Schulz. "WSU students, faculty, and staff understand the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing masks so that we can safely return to in-person learning and activities. I am proud of all those members of our community who have set the example and taken the steps to protect not just themselves, but their fellow Cougs."
The Cougars have improved to a 4-3 record this season. On Saturday, Max Borghi scored on a 2-yard run with 1:30 left in the game as Washington State came back to beat Stanford 34-31.
Rolovich was in his second season in charge of the Cougars. He had previously said he was not against vaccination and supported the decision of others to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
There were mixed opinions about the coach's decision to not get vaccinated and his termination.
"You know as a parent, you set out expectations for behavior and you set consequences when that behavior isn’t met. As adults we all live that in our working world and that seems to be the situation here," said Randy Hermans of Magnolia.
"A strong belief is a strong belief, and if you feel that’s what you have to do. Some people are like, well I have no choice. Sure you have a choice, and he chose, okay I'm not going to so therefore he doesn’t have a job," said Jason Hoppe of West Seattle.
WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura tweeted a statement of his own:
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.